Mahatma Gandhi said, “the future of India lies in its villages”. Despite government’s focus on villages for many decades, villages remain poorly serviced and governed. India has been an agricultural economy yet the sector is still not a well-paying livelihood option. Generating new avenues of employment in villages, reviving agriculture and improving services in rural areas are some of the components that need to be included right away in rural development policies.
The visual perception of Indian villages has not changed much though certain corrective policy measures and infrastructural reforms have taken place. Governmentsneed to transform our villages into smart habitats by generating lucrative economic opportunities and addressing the basic challenges rural areas are facing for decades. Delhi and Mumbai add almost 200 migrants every day. A combination of factors like agriculture becoming less remunerative, poor civic services, defunct infrastructure, and unavailability of good career opportunities has accelerated the migration from rural areas to cities.
Like any other field agriculture needs to be viewed with a new prism to make it economically rewarding. Most of the initiatives targeted to transform agriculture have always been seen as philanthropy gestures, not as a sustainable business model in India. The country is supporting start-up culture to give boost to entrepreneur skills among youngsters. There must be some provision where government bodies support the idea of reviving agriculture through various transformative solutions like opening up of market for agriculture produce in strategically targeted locations for greater economic output, providing technical and financial support to the new ideas of marketing and innovation.
For example: a growing demand in cities for organic and chemical-free food was driving a spurt in online and offline stores that sell such products. Many social enterprises were being formed and the concept was being widely discussed to enable villagers to market their goods to cater to this demand. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the idea in many of his election speeches in north eastern states. Rural Development Ministry must take this into account.
Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has proved to be a transformative scheme. Thousands of villages which were cut-off from the outside world were connected. The national rural road construction program has built paved roads to over 100,000 villages since its launch in 2000. A research report ‘Market Access and Structural Transformation: Evidence from Rural Roads in India’ by Sam Asher and Paul Novosad examines the labor market consequences of high rural transport costs by estimating the causal effects of a USD 37 billion rural road construction program, which has provided over 100,000 Indian villages with paved connections to the wider road network. It states, “These effects are driven by villages close to large cities, where a new rural road represents a larger proportional decrease in total transportation costs to external demand for rural labor and production.” Similarly the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has brought significant improvement in employment generation in rural India. The scheme that is termed the biggest poverty reduction scheme provides jobs to over 50 million households. However, the government needs to find out some innovative ways through which rural workforce can be provided skills and improve their employability in the evolving markets in rural India.