Intro: It will prudent to consolidate villages into sizeable habitats of at least a thousand household each which can be provided with basic modern amenities and from where rural workers can easily commute to their fields.
Narendra Modi Government has come up with the noble scheme of 'Adarsh Gram' under which Members of the Parliament would adopt villages for developing them into models. States would be following suit with the Members of Legislative Assemblies and Councils doing likewise. Ministry of Agriculture has come up with the idea that Scientists of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and various agricultural universities would help in adopting villages for transfer of technology. Hence it is pertinent to spell out what is actually meant by a model village rather than to leave it to the adopting person to decide for himself or herself.
Before we decide the norms and standards however, let us ponder over what is wrong with our villages. As we know economic development and urbanisation are like synonyms. Percentage of people living in rural areas is in single digit in the developed countries. The world including China has crossed the halfway mark in 2009; we are still languishing with urban population below one-third of the total, hoping to cross the halfway mark only by 2032. The prevalent thinking is to arrest urbanisation with programmes to avoid overcrowding in the cities. However, this is counterproductive. People migrate to metros and lesser cities in search of jobs and better quality of life. Building urban infrastructure requires huge investment which is affordable only by large population that too over a long period of time.
Our villages lack in the very basic amenities. And smaller villages lack far more. Of about six lakh inhabited villages, 4.8 lakh are too small – with less than 400 households each, to be able to afford even the most basic amenities. No wonder therefore that 70 per cent of 16 crore rural houses have no latrines or piped water, 65 per cent no source of water ( 22 per cent fetch water from sources beyond half a kilometer) and only 5.8 per cent are connected to covered drainage. Fuel used in 87 per cent of these households is crop residue or firewood or dried cow dung. Only 11.4 per cent use gas. Cattle and humans coexist in the same house. What type of facilities can a habitat of 400 (Below Poverty Line) BPL families hope to enjoy?
It will thus be more prudent to consolidate villages into sizeable habitats of at least a thousand household each which can be provided with basic modern amenities and from where rural workers can easily commute to their fields. Build these into model villages complete with all basic but modern amenities that residential complexes must have. A beginning can be made by adopting well connected large villages particularly those with good daily or weekly markets hence visited by people from smaller villages. This top down approach will percolate down.
A proper master plan should be prepared for each such adopted village. Like any other master plan, it should have a blueprint of the layout of the village complete with all amenities and well laid out residential complexes. This can be done with a model blueprint in which details and modifications specific to each village may be added. Other than residential areas, the plan should include common facilities like, schools with playgrounds, anganwadi, community hall, panchayat bhawan, market and industrial /business center, paved streets complete with light, covered drainage and piped water supply. Effort should be made to shift the dairy sheds away from the residential and business areas.
We can also have hygienic community kitchens to prepare meals not only for the schools and anganwadis but also for families with working women who may buy rather than cook meals, if the same are dished out under the Food Security Scheme. Since cereals alone don't make a meal and grinding would cost more than the cost of PDS cereals, many families may prefer cooked meals. In any case each household should either have biogas connection or a solar cooker and proper smokeless chulha. Since smoke is a big hazard not only for the eyes but also the respiratory system.
Most important aspect of this exercise should be construction of the infrastructure and construction and reconstruction of the houses not only for those who are already living there but also for those who would like to immigrate from nearby smaller villages. It is important to involve beneficiary families in this exercise. So they can contribute their labour under employment guarantee scheme for building their own houses. This should count towards their own contribution to the cost of the house the larger part of which will be funded by government subsidies and bank loan.
It is good that villages are being adopted by MPs, MLAs and agricultural scientists. But it would be better if business houses particularly those associated with agro and rural industries also adopt them because rural industrialisation is an important aspect of the developmental process. Already we have mills processing food grains, pulses, oilseeds, sugarcane, jute and cotton as also milk, poultry, meat and fish processing units. Each adopted village should have either a common or two separate skills development centres for young men and women.
So far farming is concerned, transfer of technology has been going on for decades. Extension department has been doing it. But unless and until we develop some real breakthrough technology like high yielding varieties or tube wells or cross-breed animals or GM cotton, it won't sell. More important therefore is to develop high yielding varieties of pulses and oilseeds the yield of which continue to be very low. We must also diversify farming to increase area under vegetables and fruits as also fodder. Secondly, our irrigation system wastes not only water but also land – due to water logging and salinity. We must propagate use of cement and poly pipes for transporting and delivering water, thus save substantial area of land from degradation while increasing net area under crops.
We have made real good progress under various revolution such as White, Pink, Blue and Green Revolution. With proper processing and transportation facilities we can take these revolutions much ahead. Major problem of rural areas is unemployment. Agriculture being a seasonal activity and cropping intensity not even 140 per cent most farmers and farm hand have no work for six months. It gets reflected in their poverty and lower living standard. Model villages can address this problem with more labour intensive and better paying crops, allied activities, in many ways by increasing cropping intensity, diversification to more remunerative and labour intensive crops, allied activities and employment in non farming activities for which different set of skills would be required. Ideally the business house adopting the village should help in developing such skills which will be useful to them also.
JP Dubey (The writer is a columnist having expertise on developmental issues)