The Little Rann of Kutch

Centuries ago, the Little Rann of Kutch was part of the sea. Deposition of silt brought down by sea along the shore, clubbed with some geological processes, led to the pushing back of the sea, exposing 5,000 sq. km flat terrain — now known as the Little Rann of Kutch. The Little Rann of Kutch is an unsurveyed piece of land that accounts for 37 per cent of the Gujarat’s total salt production (Gujarat produces 73 per cent of India’s salt). This is a mudflat area, which turns into sea for four months and becomes dry land for the remaining eight months of the year. It provides shelter to over 5,000 wild asses and 33 other types of wild animals and birds.

The Agariyas

In the Little Rann of Kutch, the Agariya community (salt farmers) extracts one of the rarest types of salts, called vadagara crystals. The Agariyas make the Little Rann of Kutch, which is known as India’s Survey Number Zero — home for eight months for 3,500 Agariya families. During this period, they live secluded lives as their farms are far and scattered yet communication has never been a problem for them.

Connecting the Unconnected

For years, Agariyas have been communicating with each other through mirror flash; and they have developed a language of signals. When mobile technology arrived in the region, even if the network was only accessible at a few points in the desert, a few Agariyas started using mobile phones to communicate with each other.
Now, Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) has reached the Little Rann of Kutch with Internet connectivity. Zero Connect is an initiative under Phase VII of Wireless for Communities, a project of DEF & the Internet Society (ISOC) in association with Agariya Heetrakshak Manch, to connect the unreached communities in the region. It connects the Little Rann of Kutch, Manish Rann, Kharagodah Rann, Patadi and Surendrangar.

The Project

This project aims to give the Agariyas a digital voice through which they can communicate within and outside their community. It will help mark their place on the map, bring them online, improve their access to citizen rights, enable access to government information and help them be recognised for the role they play economically and environmentally.
  • With a mobile van equipped with Internet connectivity, laptops and an LCD screen, the Agariyas can now access details of food stock at their nearest PDS shop, apply for various government schemes, access edutainment content online and be trained in digital literacy.
  • Children of the community can access educational content on tablets; and video calls with others their age have made learning joyful for the children of Rann.
  • As many as 17 Rann Shalas (or makeshift schools) are connected to each other and with the Internet.
  • A health van run by the nearest primary health centre connects the local community with expert doctors at the district level through video calls on an emergency basis for quick and quality consultations.
  • All Agariyas including their salt farms, their houses are digitally mapped and arranged.
  • Digital market linkages have been established for the unique salt and other farm produce.

The Methodology

Zero Connect project is innovatively designed to bring broadband Internet connectivity from far flung locations to different parts of the Little Rann of Kutch through the use of diverse wireless technologies, line of site and unlicensed spectrum. For this purpose, a specially designed vehicle has been built-in with digital equipment, rooftop solar panels, back up batteries, an expandable and flexible 5 meter tripod based antenna tower with dish antenna. The dish antenna revolves 360 degree and depending upon where the vehicle is parked, it aligns with the broadband internet tower at the periphery of the Little Rann of Kutch. The antenna on the vehicle catches Internet from backhaul tower using unlicensed spectrum with complete security and further allows Wi-Fi access to local identified users within a radius of 100 metres.