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Make villages smarter before you make cities smart

To solve the problems of urbanisation, policymakers must look at our rural habitats, improve their basic infrastructure and promote self-sufficient economic activities. These initiatives can significantly reduce the burden on cities’ services and infrastructure. How can a village be developed as a smart one? This is a million-dollar question. For this, we will first need to understand what actually makes a village smart…

Rural-urban migration is putting severe strain on urban infrastructure. There is a crying need to arrest this trend. But the policymakers and governments have no clear-cut solutions. It is evident that until rural areas have adequate economic opportunities and facilities, the exodus is bound to continue.
One way is to make villages smart. So, what is a smart village? According to one of the accepted definitions of the term, a smart village is one where people have access to quality education and healthcare, access to clean drinking water, sanitation and nutrition, improved security, gender equality and democratic engagement with communities. In order to develop a smart village, all the above criteria need to be met and a sustainable environment needs to be created which is supportive of efforts to develop a smart village successfully.
The empowerment of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) should also be on the cards of the governments if they want to create smart villages. The scheme like AMRUT in cities can also be introduced for capacity building of elected representatives in villages and officials at village and block level. Such programs can be started on a pilot basis in some villages and later, these can be scaled up on the basis of lessons learnt. The world may be becoming increasingly urban but a large number of people will continue to live in villages. There is no doubt that we need to improve services and infrastructure in cities but villages cannot be ignored. Villages can also be instrumental in achieving the objectives under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Villages in the last couple of decades have changed a lot because of the increase in access to communication technology. But we need to look at the rural sectors which need immediate attention.
Education: Education in villages has always been a matter of concern. There are many reasons. The first one is unavailability of good academic infrastructure. A village community must have access to education which would empower them with the knowledge required to create better lives for the people around them. Therefore, this is probably one of the most important criteria when it comes to developing a smart village. In this direction, many initiatives have been taken by central and state governments and the gap is reducing. The issues relating to the primary education have been addressed but the lack of good academic institutions for higher studies still remain a challenge. This has to be addressed. Programmes can be designed to impart education in subjects relevant to the rural landscape – agriculture, animal husbandry, handicrafts, etc.
Healthcare: Big cities have robust healthcare systems but for our villages, a unified healthcare system needs to be developed which guarantees access to healthcare for every citizen. A community cannot thrive if the people can’t even access basic healthcare. Governments need to think beyond primary health centres for villages.
Drinking water and sanitation: Clean drinking water is a basic need for survival. Similarly, proper sanitation is also required to ensure that people live healthy and fulfilling lives. Access to piped water supply is significantly lower in rural areas. Provision of better civic services has to be strengthened in rural areas. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is improving sanitation and many Indian villages have become open defecation free already.
Nutrition: The government of India has launched the Right to Food initiative. Still, there are many hurdles in achieving zero hunger in remote villages and many people still sleep without food. The performance of India on Hunger Index underlines this issue. Government has Employment Guarantee schemes and these can be strengthened by improving economic opportunities in rural areas by promoting small and medium scale industries.
Connectivity and security: We are in the age where connectivity and security are two of the most fundamental requirements. Proper policing and maintenance of law and order are paramount for the safety and security of a community. Connectivity is another aspect which needs to be looked into, irrespective of whether we are talking about the roads, transport or digital and mobile connectivity. Only when a village meets the above criteria and is able to deliver them without hiccups will it meet the status of a smart village.
People in villages still lead simple lives. Although they are connected nowadays with cell phones and digital television transmission, yet they are cut off from the mainstream of urban areas due to poor road connectivity and the market for their agricultural commodities.
The villages do not have enough electricity supply and all work dependent on electricity is affected. The health, educational and civil facilities are also either absent or not up to the mark. Making such villages as ‘Smart Villages’ is surely a noble program announced by Government. But no one in villages has seen what exactly, in the Indian context, smart village means. Government of India has started Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) and its vision statement says: “Development of a cluster of villages that preserve and nurture the essence of rural community life with a focus on equity and inclusiveness without compromising with the facilities perceived to be essentially urban in nature, thus creating a cluster of “Rurban villages”. The irony is that Rurban Mission has been a non-starter and exists on paper only. Rural Development Ministers of various states are not even interested in it. That is a tragedy.

 

The empowerment of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) should also be on the cards of the governments if they want to create smart villages. The scheme like AMRUT in cities can also be introduced for capacity building of elected representatives in villages and officials at village and block level. Such programs can be started on a pilot basis in some villages and later, these can be scaled up on the basis of lessons learnt

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