India still lives in her villages—about 6 lakh villages with over 65 crore people represent the real country. The promise of “wiping every tear from every eye” is still alive. Tears that could not be wiped out have gone dry with time. With patience giving way, it’s time to go all out for rural development. Without resorting to blame game, the time has come for contributions by all the stakeholders, as the government alone cannot do everything. The society at large, state governments, NGOs, public and private enterprises, and those living in villages have equal roles to play.
A diagnostic evaluation of the plight of villages presents a pathetic data. Be it education, energy, infrastructure, health, sanitation, drinking water, skill, entertainment, internet and other amenities … availability is much shorter than demand. But the Prime Minister’s vision for rural India has revived hopes. Our villages continue to stagger behind in fulfilling the basic necessities and infrastructure requirement. Since Independence, many schemes have been formulated to uplift rural India and almost every Union Budget sees a handsome allocation of funds for rural development. But evaluation of growth has been largely based on fulfilment of basic needs of “roti, kapda aur makan,” whereas development needs must be measured against facilities for education, health and sanitation, electricity, road, drinking water, and now internet.
Skill development has been taken up on priority, but mere certification is not sufficient. There should be enough opportunities for self-employment. Internal connectivity of road network is essential, to ensure supply chain of products made from the skills learnt. Skill development must be transformed into mini, tiny and micro industries, so that each house becomes a centre of production. Time and again, non-development of villages has been equated to the backward and poor mindset of the uneducated. Thought process of the people can be modified if they are provided education. As per NSSO, literacy rate in rural India has seen only 10% increase in the past decade. As per DISE Analytical Report 2015-16 on elementary education in rural India, there are 15.22 lakh schools where 26 crore students are enrolled.
But it’s worth looking at the status of the quality of teachers and their availability—59% schools in villages do not have a regular teacher or a headmaster, and 73% schools have less than five teachers. Further, only 17% teachers receive in-service training. In case we do not upgrade their teaching skills or knowledge, we should not expect improvement in quality of students. Also, even though internet has revolutionised remote areas, 59% schools in villages don’t have computers. There is lack of basic infrastructure like buildings and classrooms, and 42% schools don’t have electricity. A lecturer in a South African university once noted: “Collapsing any nation does not require use of atomic bombs … it requires lowering the quality of education…” Basic amenities are found lacking in villages. Not only fund allocation, but a well-conceived action plan for the integrated development of villages is a must for improving rural economy.
The concept model for rural development: Improved rural economy would require massive efforts for skill development centres across villages to ensure at least one such centre in a cluster of four villages. Skills learnt must be transformed into mini, tiny and micro industries in every village home to produce items for marketing not only within the country, but worldwide. Unsophisticated village folk are not well-conversant to market the product, nor do they have the required financial support—thus we need micro-financing and an effective supply chain management. The role of state governments is very important to market the products. Banks, Centre and state governments, NGOs, PSUs, multilateral financial institutions need to play prominent roles to make it a success. Further, internationally-benchmarked skills will provide the movement of huge labour force in international markets, just like the IT sector.
Imparting proper education can prepare the youth for the change and, therefore, each village must have primary education centres—every two villages a middle level and for every 3-4 villages a secondary and inter-college level education. Girl child has to be given special incentives because even today there is discrimination between boys and girls.
Villages require inter- and intra-connectivity by surfaced roads. Availability of electricity and internet in villages will bring the village folk into the mainstream. Once internet is there, villagers will have access to information. Health, sanitation and drinking water are other essential areas that require special attention.
All these areas require a robust mandatory mechanism for implementation. Awareness on these facilities must be first created in each village, for which a dedicated team comprising of one each from Centre and state, NGOs, two MBA students (mandatory for degree) and PSUs and corporates should camp in villages for at least ten days to appraise villagers on the proposed development. It would require a large number of such teams to cover all villages. As these requirements will need not only proper planning but huge financial resources, it will need help from everybody—Centre, states and corporates.
The author is director general, the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE). Views are personal