Will developed villages today make for better cities tomorrow?

At a time when our cities are gasping for breath and grappling with problems galore, would it not be wiser to strengthen our village infrastructure and diversify the rural economy to check rural-urban migration?

When we think of development prospects in our country, our minds immediately go to urban development projects and recent missions like Smart City Mission, JNNURM and the like. Cities are described as growth engines of a country’s economy. However, what the urban-centric approach of development fails to acknowledge is the role of rural areas in the sustainable development of our nation.

Most urban development projects provide for infrastructural needs of the cities but do not address the underlying issue. The ever increasing population of our country, and the increasing urbanization rate accompanied by increasing migration trends from rural areas has put our already stressed cities under even more pressure. Moreover, the urban rural divide in terms of economic conditions, physical and social infrastructure facilities further worsen matters.

On one hand, we keep burdening our cities, often more than their carrying capacities, whereas on the other hand the resources in our village remain underutilized or ill-utilized.

What could be a possible solution?

A simple solution to tackle this problem would be to strengthen our village infrastructure and diversify the rural economy in order to ensure a holistic development of our nation.

The first part of the solution involving planning and implementation is rather straightforward. The basic infrastructural needs, in terms of both physical and social facilities – such as water, electricity, drainage, sanitation, solid waste management, roads, transport, education and health facilities – have to be calculated as per the population and detailed project reports for the same need to be prepared. There are various central and state government schemes under which funding can be availed for the same.

However successful implementation of such projects needs honest effort from the government as well as the people. The people need to voice their needs clearly to the authorities, and the authorities need to work towards achieving these goals with community participation and involvement. This would ensure better planning and implementation.

The second part of the solution requires a more detailed study and analysis of the condition in each village, their specific strengths and weaknesses. Economic diversification can never have a blanket solution, even for villages in the same region.

However, the alternatives to the existing economic activities in the villages need to be in alignment with the traditional, cultural and inherent practices in the region. For example places adjoining tourist circuits can be encouraged to develop rural tourism, places with a predominantly agricultural background may develop agro-processing units which would lead to value addition to the end product and increase income levels in the agrarian economy.

Job retention, job creation, new business opportunities can improve employment conditions, especially for the youth. Additionally, it revives and enhances community pride along with the preservation of local heritage and culture. What we find, however, in the name of rural development is imprudent practices that attempt to mimic the cities. The rural communities often lose their rustic essence in the process; moreover, such development, it at all any, is often at the cost of the environment. There is thus a strong need to plan and develop with due consideration to the environment, social traditions and culture.

The government of India recently launched the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee National Rurban Mission to address the very same problem. The mission aims to improve fourteen aspects of the rural areas, which include the economy apart from social and physical infrastructure in these areas. The mission also aims to reduce the migration trends from rural to urban by providing in situ development in such a manner that would help in sustenance of the people, without compromising with the rustic essence.

For this purpose, 300 ‘rurban’ clusters have been identified all over the country and an integrated clusters action plan is being prepared for the same. Each cluster has a funding of a maximum of Rs 100 crores for its development, with 70 percent to be availed through various central and state government schemes and the remaining 30 percent to be obtained from the central government.

What are the challenges?

The process of rural development requires a strong baseline study involving community involvement at the grassroots level. This makes the entire process labour intensive and time consuming. Moreover, in the process of plan formulation, the voice of the people at the lowest level is often lost, with only a few people representing the community.

There is especially a need to involve the marginalized groups, the elderly, women and children in the process to ensure an inclusive approach. Hence, there is a need to follow a bottom-up approach in such development projects. Also capacity building at the lowest levels is essential for proper implementation, operation and maintenance of such projects.

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