Blueprint for a new rural India
TWO RATHER different factors are now focusing attention on what Mahatma Gandhi had called the real India election campaigns and the drought that is sweeping the western and southern parts of India. The spectre of farmers committing suicide, which began a few years ago, still haunts the country.
It would be wrong to presume that the national growth in GDP has not percolated down to the villages at all. In fact, many urban dwellers, hard-pressed to own a house in the city, point out that there are many `villages' where NRI money has ensured palatial houses while in the more developed States, the villages closer to cities and towns do not present a dismal picture.
Photographs in the media of farmers with cell phones in their hands against the backdrop of lush, green fields also give credence to the notion that things are not so bad in rural India or Bharat.
However, the exodus into cities and towns from villages tells a different story. The per capita income of Indian villagers is Rs. 12,000 (the national average is Rs. 25,000). This is a major reason for migration to cities and the ugly scenes witnessed in Assam and Maharashtra with `outsiders,' who had come for job interviews, bearing the brunt of violence, are still fresh in people's minds. Agriculture employs 64 per cent of the total workforce but this employment is dependant to a large extent on rainfall and rainwater harvesting. Besides, rural development expenditure has been brought down to 6 per cent of GDP in the last five years from an average of 14.5 per cent during 1985-90. In real terms, the Government has been spending Rs. 30,000 crores less annually on rural India with a multiplier downward impact on rural incomes and employment. But, as they say, a chain is as strong as its weakest link. So, even as Indians not only harbour dreams but nurse ambitions of a great, strong and united country that will be a member of the United Nation's Security Council and a power to be reckoned with there is a real problem facing the country.
With 72.21 per cent of the one billion population living in 6.38 lakh villages of India, surely it is here that the focus of all efforts must lie. And what is the situation here 5 per cent of the villagers do not have pucca houses, 25 per cent have no safe drinking water, 55 per cent no electricity in their homes and 85 per cent no sanitation facilities. If these statistics are fleshed out in human terms, it is not a picture that can make any Indian feel proud.
What makes the situation poignantly painful is that the country has gone through 10 five-year plans up to now. A look at the budgetary provisions shows that the allocation for rural sanitation and safe drinking water does not exceed 2 per cent of the total plan expenditure.
And what about education the one major factor that makes such a vast difference? Hardly 60 per cent of the rural population is literate and the dropout rate for children is as high as 50 per cent well before they reach the fifth standard. Nearly 65 per cent of the villages do not have a proper school and even where there are `schools,' horror stories of the teacher coming thrice a year just for the record or of the school `shed'' being used to store grain and cattle feed are common in the media.
A more depressing picture emerges if one looks at tribal areas and hamlets. Denudation of the forests and extreme malnutrition force the tribals to seasonally migrate to work in slave like conditions for unscrupulous labour contractors.
What is to be done
A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and corporate houses that have adopted villages are doing a wonderful job to improve the situation. A number of Magsaysay award winners in the past few years have been individuals who have given up lucrative careers and prospects to live in rural India and help in overturning decades of misery and bureaucratic neglect. The names and examples of Rajendra Singh, Aruna Roy and Sandeep Mishra come to mind along with a number of others who are working towards the same end.
But much more needs to be done and in a more concerted manner. There are a few basic necessities which are essential for a decent, productive life: a pucca house; safe drinking water and sanitation; water harvesting; electricity; schools with qualified teachers; health centres with doctors; proper roads; telephone connections; and television.
It is only a matter of planning and co-ordination to involve the corporates and NGOs in providing these basic needs to the villages. This, of course, assumes that the inclination and motivation exists.
Practical modus operandi
It should not be a problem for the `haves' to provide the basic necessities for the `have-nots.' Here are some practical steps:
(a) Identify 6.38 lakh individuals, NGOs, corporations and trusts which can sponsor a number of villages and provide them with basic facilities.
(b) For each village if they can provide Rs.10 lakhs a year that is tax deductible, in ten years there will be Rs. 1 crore. The villages, sponsored in this manner, will bear their original names although the sponsors' name will be mentioned somewhere. A medium sized company with a turnover of Rs. 100 crores and profit of Rs. 5 crores can easily sponsor two villages per year. Large companies such as IOC, SBI and Hindustan Lever can sponsor 100 villages each. Other giants like the Tatas, the Birlas and the Reliance Group can also sponsor 100 villages each.
(c) A corporation can be set up to identify the donors and villages and prepare guidelines. This corporation can co-ordinate with the Union Ministry of Rural Development and issue a `model' guideline. The type of houses, roads, water supply methods and other amenities that can be provided will form part of these guidelines. If such a strategy is followed, Rs. 638,365 crores (corresponding to the number of villages in India) would have been invested in the rural areas over ten years. Obviously, this will give a fillip to employment and generation of income much more vigorously and will have a cascading effect ten times more than the amount invested. Among the results that will follow will be the elimination of the pressure to migrate to cities. But the greatest blessing will be the making of a great, strong and united India in keeping with the dreams of those who gave their all to make this nation independent.
Sadanand A. Shetty
(Founder and Chairman of Fouress Group of Companies and Founder Editor, One India One People. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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