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ITC to link 1 lakh villages with e-choupals, invest Rs 1,000 cr
The Times of India - 04 Dec 2002

ITC Ltd has finalised an ambitious investment plan of nearly Rs 1,000 crore to power its aggressive IT initiative in agri marketing business. Over the next five to seven years, the company plans to connect a sixth of India’s 600,000 villages in 14 states and bring them under its agriculture portal, e-choupal.

"Though it is difficult to quantify the actual investment that will be required, it takes about Rs 1-3 lakhs to set up an e-choupal," ITC chairman Y. C. Deveshwar said. The company currently spends around Rs 100 crore annually in areas of software, hardware and IT-enabled services.

Addressing a gathering of IT industry officials, ITC chairman Y. C. Deveshwar projected e-choupal as the perfect example of use of IT as a strategic tool for value creation and rural empowerment. "The initiative will help develop a trade marketing and distribution super highway for farm produce of the country and benefit lakhs of farmers who are currently at the mercy of intermediaries," he said. "The purpose of the e-choupal is to empower farmers with real time information on weather and prices so that they can insulate themselves from the unpredictable climate conditions and price fluctuations at the mandis," Deveshwar said.

ITC started with six e-choupals in 2000 and has at present 1,200 choupals linking 6,500 villages. Over the next few years, the company would open four e-choupals every day over the next few years to realise the dream.

At present, ITC operates aqua choupals in Andhra Pradesh, coffee choupals in Karnataka, soya choupals in Madhya Pradesh and wheat choupals in Uttar Pradesh. It is also in talks with the West Bengal government to set up aqua choupals in the state.

The success of the e-choupal initiative has attracted the attention of Harvard Business School and Kellogg’s School of Management, with both taking it up as a case study in their curriculum. The World Bank has also approached ITC to render consultancy services in Africa on similar lines. "The company has decided not to engage in such activities to stay focused in the project in India," Deveshwar said.