For growth, focus on remote villages

Posted on August 3, 2010 | Author: Sonalde Desai | View 1470 | Comment : 4

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Rural infrastructure has received considerable attention and investment in recent years through different components of Bharat Nirman Yojna. However, difficulties in achieving infrastructure targets are also real, particularly when it comes to quality. Practical strategies for addressing infrastructure woes require greater attention to the differences between rural areas. 
All rural areas are not alike and their diversity shapes the core dilemma defining modern India. Some villages have shared the prosperity of the recent decade while other remain forgotten and overlooked outposts in a nation in transition. A study titled Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition by researchers from National Council of Applied Economic Research and University of Maryland found tremendous diversity among villages on a variety of dimensions of wellbeing. 
Of the 1,454 villages surveyed nationwide, information on existence of the following services was collected: Pucca road, bus stop, police station, bank, electricity, telephone land line, mobile access, kirana shop, PDS shop, and bazaar. In developed villages, where at least six of these eleven facilities were available, human development indicators were substantially better. While some of these infrastructure facilities are provided by the private sector, most are government services and one would assume that they are not driven by wealth or poverty of the village. But two characteristics of villages with poorly developed infrastructure are noteworthy. 
One, these are not necessarily far flung villages — only 8% are more than 30 km away from the nearest town. However, proximity to just any town is not sufficient, it is the district town, the seat of power that seems to be relevant. Of the villages located within 30 km of the district headquarters, 57% fall in our categorisation of developed village, compared to barely 42% of those that are 60 km or farther away. 
Second, these villages are disproportionately located in Chhattisgharh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, the flashpoints of the Maoist insurgency. In these states, 70% or more of the surveyed villages are classified as being less developed compared to 50% for India as a whole and 40% or less in southern states. 
These are the villages where non-agricultural work is scarce, children attend school but fail to learn to read and where vaccination levels are low. In contrast, better connected villages — about 50% of the villages studied — appear to be far more integrated in the economy and on some dimensions of well being, appear to be almost on par with smaller cities. 
The key difference between lives of residents in these two sets of villages lies in differential access to non-agricultural work. Agriculture is important in both developed and less developed villages. In both about half the males rely exclusively on agriculture, but while 34% of the males in developed villages rely exclusively on non-farm employment, only 22% in less developed villages do so. Both agricultural and non-agricultural incomes in villages with better infrastructure are also higher. 
Infrastructure development brings with it nonagricultural work opportunities by providing jobs as teachers, clerical workers, artisans and shopkeepers within the village; it also increases the possibility of commuting to nearby towns for work. It increases the likelihood that the teachers and nurses will live in the village and improves the quality of education and health care. Ironically, even NGOs are more likely to locate in villages that have better infrastructure, augmenting the virtuous cycle of rural development. Urban and rural differences in standards of living have been acknowledged by public policy, diversity in the rural panorama has received little attention. While we must rejoice that some villages have grown into prosperous hubs these statistics also offer us incentives to invest in the infrastructure for the villages that have been left out. 
Recognition of diversity within the rural sector is particularly important because our typical instinct is to target poorest districts. This is not a bad strategy for many programmes such as health schemes where strong regional clustering in disease prevalence has been observed or for irrigation and forestry programs where spillover effects dominate. However, it does not serve us well when it comes to infrastructure. Analysis of variance suggests that 30% of the variance in infrastructure lies between states, 18% between districts within a state and 52% between villages within a district. This suggests a need for a targeted strategy, consisting of a two-pronged approach starting with states that have lowest level of infrastructure development and within those focusing on most backward villages, often villages farthest from the district headquarters. 
As the nation struggles with the challenges of meeting targets under Bharat Nirman Yojna, there will be temptations to focus on the low hanging fruit – villages where some development has already taken place and hence are easy to reach, villages that are close to centers of power, and peri-urban villages. We must resist this temptation to focus on the forgotten villages that have been left out of the developmental mainstream until now. 
Sonalde Desai is a Senior Fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research and Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. Views are personal

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Comments (4)

  • Our eighty per cent people live in our villages and therefore, they must be looked after.

    Posted by dalip singh wasan , advocate at writer. | 04 Aug, 2010

  • I appreciate the views expressed in the article and a small growth at rural segment will be a big boost for the entire economy and influence greately.
    Small cottage industries like tamoto sauce, mango juice and onions related and mirch releated will greately protect the farmers and will be available at competetive rates.
    small scale units need based and with good quality , assembling units at rural arrest the flow to towns and gives secondary income to major segment of population.
    Dairy and horticulture on committed co-operative movement will give a newlife for rural segment
    work force is availble at very very competetive rate ready to work technically government and sponsers have to come forward for building a future powerful india a head.

    Posted by Satya Narayana Palukuru,Advocates & Mediators at Advocate , Hyderabad|04 Aug, 2010

  • I agree and apprecciate the detailed survey. Infact the corporate and so called educated persons only discussing not extanding his services to the villages. Doctors don't want to serve mainly due to lac of electric and his chield education. Bank also not willing to open his branch/ATMs. For instance in my Home district only on ATM exist by SBI. To make turn over atleat one or two days needed with bank, to tacke Train ticket, u have to stand from 3.00am mornning, even u will get not confirm.
    Electricity. village finance (car loan is more cheap and easy, farmers tacking loan from money lenders at 2-4% monthly baisis), education, health services almost all needed to improve at very fastar rate. The population controle is very urgant issue to be highlighted in Bank, railway and ...See More

    Posted by jDr J K Nigam , CEO at Qualitas Crop Sciences Pvt Ltd | 04 Aug, 2010

  • Dear Sir,
    I appreciate your observation on the condition of life in the villages. I would however like to add one more point which I feel is the primary need for all villages. I have also toured villages extensively and have observed that our brothers and sisters do not get the basic medical attention. I have seen people travelling scores of miles to reach a sub center or PHC. The SC and 90% of the PHCs' are working like dispensaries where it serves between 9am to 2pm maximum. The BPHCs' are sometimes too far and the transportation system is so poor that the patients cannot return home on the same day. Medicines are seldom available for a majority of the deseases especially malaria and the Govt wakes up when there are several casualties. It is also pathetic to see that most of the ...See More

    Posted by Debal Chatterjee | 03 Aug, 2010

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