Rurban; best of both worlds

Beyond the cities, there is vitality and energy in smaller towns especially given our vast geographical spread and diversity in the economic and social fabric. Policy interventions can help make these locations attractive for locals and to stem the urban deluge.

Relentless and rapid urbanization the world over has turned the attention of policy makers everywhere towards finding measures to cope with the population migration and attempting to equip urban centres to meet the burgeoning infrastructure requirements and step up their service delivery capabilities. In India, a slew of urban rejuvenation measures have been put in place to address various facets of the challenge like funding for urban local bodies to augment infrastructure, encouraging the ULBs to embrace technology based solutions and for capacity building of their employees and other stakeholders. This is indeed necessary to improve quality of life in urban centres and in order to meet the aspirations of its people.

 

Rural India

Often the rural landscape and the populace are considered as a destination or a container in which to deposit the ideas, innovation and resources which are developed in the urban centres. In many cultures there is a patronizing attitude towards rural areas and an attitude which says that they need to be looked after. Alongside is the feeling that the population in the rural areas are good to only work with their ‘hands and legs’, i.e., manual labour since they are incapable of working with their ‘brains’ i.e., mental work. There is need for realization that the non-urban landscape is capable of being the ‘source’ of ideas and innovation too.

Other considerations may be compelling us to look at the rural hinterland with greater interest. During the last many decades migration into urban centres has been driven by the quest for meaningful livelihoods. In fact a decent livelihood and better quality of life for all is the overarching objective of the development agenda. Thus urban centresbecame thriving hubs of industry, services and micro-entrepreneurial activity in the form of the small trader, repair shop or the micro/small industrial unit. However, driven by a prolonged slowdown in the world economy coupled with disruption caused by technology has brought about changes. Manufacturing is no more the answer for large scale job creation across multiple levels. While the sector accounted for 16.1 percent of Gross Value Added in India as per the latest Annual Report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), itis apparently no more capable of generating jobs in large numbers due to improving shop-floor efficiencies and cutting-edge technology based automation. Factory jobs, especially routine non-cognitive ones are being replaced by robots and other automation devices. The theme everywhere is ‘doing more with less’ in the never-ending race to cut costs. In services too, many jobs, particularly at the low end are becoming redundant due to advances in technology as in the case of banking, combined with a structural shift which calls for greater specialized skills in several sectors, as in the case of the software sector enterprises. The informal street corner entrepreneurial activities such as that of the vegetable vendor could slowly be taken away with large supermarkets and organized online service providers.

That leaves agriculture.Agriculture including forestry and fishery contributed 17 percent to Gross Value Added in 2015-16 as per the MoSPI Annual Report. About 41 percent of the total 58.5 million establishments are in the rural areas. Interestingly of the 58.5 million establishments, 45.36 million or 77.6 percent are in ‘non-agricultural’ activities, suggesting that many of the establishments in the semi-urban/rural areas are engaged in non-agricultural activities. This is an indication of the vibrancy imparted to the non-urban economy by industries such as automobiles and cellphones. Very likely, a large number of establishments in such areas are engaged is retail trade and service/repairs of these products. However, these varied enterprises in the rural centreswill survive and flourish only if supported by robust and healthy incomes from farm and allied activities and therefore farm incomes need to be protected, supported and augmented.Higher output resulting from enhanced productivity, aggregation of land holdings, higher mechanization, value added cultivation like fruits, vegetables and pulses, multi cropping, soil nutrition inputs will all aid improvement in farm incomes while providing population with more nutrition and options in their consumption basket. There is evidence of success. According to an IBEF report, India’s production of fruits, for example, has grown faster than that of vegetables, making it the second largest fruit producer in the world. India’s horticultural output for 2016-17 could be about 285 million tonnes as compared to about 145 million tonnes in 2001-02. The higher farm incomes will enable support a larger non-farm economy in rural areas thereby putting in place a virtuous cycle of economic development and prosperity.

There are other sectors with good potential. Handicrafts and artisan skill based activities have been identified and nurtured since long by various local agencies. There is surely ample scope for leveraging rural knowledge intensive activity such as traditional medicine. The worldwide interest in traditional, non-mainstream medical systems and food products can support and help leverage the very specialized knowledge base in many parts of rural India. Food processing industry is another activity which can be located near the place of produce, use local labour, churn out high quality products and help augment farm income while creating employment opportunities in non-urban India.

The Government of India’s Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) aims to leverage the strengths of India’s rural landscape with a cluster development approach. The Mission recognizes the fact that rural centres often function as clusters of several settlements with interdependencies. The programme aims to select and develop about 300 such clusters over a five-year period upto 2019-20 through appropriate policy interventions jointly with state governments.

 

Rurban Mission

The Government of India’s Shyama Prasad MukherjiRurban Mission (SPMRM) aims to leverage the strengths of India’s rural landscape with a cluster development approach. The Mission recognizes the fact that rural centres often function as clusters of several settlements with interdependencies. The programme aims to select and develop about 300 such clusters over a five-year period upto 2019-20 through appropriate policy interventions jointly with state governments. The clusters selected will comprise settlements in relative proximity and together exhibit potential for growth. This Mission aims to provide the physical, economic and social infrastructure necessary to exploit its potential. The stated objective is to stimulate local economic development, enhance basic services, and create well planned Rurban clusters.

It is thus evident that while our cities are racing ahead and often vying with each other to provide better infrastructure and services to its residents, non-urban locations in the world are repositories of vast human skills, traditional knowledge, a remarkable diversity of customs and practices and thus possess immense potential with the right inputs.From just tourism destinations and a spectacle for the curious visitor from the city, these locations can become thriving centres of economic activity by leveraging their rich knowledge and local resources.

Often the rural landscape and the populace are considered as a destination or a container in which to deposit the ideas, innovation and resources which are developed in the urban centres. In many cultures there is a patronizing attitude towards rural areas and an attitude which says that they need to be looked after….. There is need for realization that the non-urban landscape is capable of being the ‘source’ of ideas and innovation too.

 

The Government of India’s Shyama Prasad MukherjiRurban Mission (SPMRM) aims to leverage the strengths of India’s rural landscape with a cluster development approach. The Mission recognizes the fact that rural centres often function as clusters of several settlements with interdependencies. The programme aims to select and develop about 300 such clusters over a five-year period upto 2019-20 through appropriate policy interventions jointly with state governments.

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