Every now and then one comes across pictures of countryside and villages of developed countries. Say the rural countryside of the developed areas in Europe and North America or in Asia such as Japan, South Korea. The eyes get transfixed on these pictures. The countryside is often so picturesque. So much greenery and decent standards of living are smiling at you from these photographs.
Now suppose you are in a train which is travelling from New Delhi to Patna. After three or four hours, the train would be in the heartland of northern plains. As you watch from your window, the sorry state of the Indian countryside starts unfolding.
The fields are increasingly bereft of trees. There is so much filth and dirt strewn around clusters of human population. The human dwellings are overwhelmingly shabby, drab, congested and ill-organised.
Half naked, ill-nourished children. Pigs snuffling in the hap-hazarded ponds of mud. Stray cows and dogs searching in the garbage heaps. Sights which stab, particularly when you have in mind the picturesque pictures painted by the countryside in the developed countries.
Successive central governments have failed to give PRIORITY to rural development. It is not that there is absence of activity on part of successive central governments on rural development; but it is clear that PRIORITISATION of rural development has been consistently absent for a long time in India now on parts of central governments.
PRIORITISATION of rural development is an absolute must if India is to progress in any meaningful manner.
The body, heart and soul of India still lives in its villages. Overwhelming percentage of population still lives in villages. But in much of the country, such as say in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, the north-eastern states, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan; the rural countryside still is a bare and desolate picture of poverty, deprivation and lack of progress or facilities.
No wonder then that teeming millions of rural folk are migrating to the urban centres. The result being that urban centres are getting heavily congested and starved of resources. Take the example of Delhi, Bangalore. The condition and pressure on resources here is such that living in these cities has already become difficult and, in near future, may become a crisis of grave magnitude. The other premier urban centres are not far behind in terms of problems being faced by ever increasing immigrants from villages coming to them. Mumbai, Chennai; – they are steadily sinking under the weight of the rural immigrants.
So on one side you have a very sorry state in much of the Indian countryside and you have ever increasing problems, on the other side, in urban centres on account of the rural immigration taking place on account of the rural deprivation. It does not take any genius to see that rural development PRIORITIZATION is an absolute must to bring the lines of development in India on a rational and required scale and measure.
Then why such appropriate prioritization is not happening?
Some say that foreign loans or aid are available at easier rates for projects like the recent bullet train one as compared to rural projects. Then it is said that the central government has its funds tied up and unless and until the extra funds are able to be garnered; it is difficult to earmark more for rural projects.
Both these explanations offer little towards explaining the lack of prioritization of rural development on part of successive central governments.
Considerable industry and business is based on rural-based resources and raw materials such as that of agro or social forestry, milk and related items, vegetables, fruits, farm and other animal husbandry products; and such industry and business exists at all scales, – the small, medium and large and extra-large. Accelerating greater inflow of investments, therefore, on rural-based resources and raw materials has sound business sense to it; provided it is promoted and focused upon as a matter of utmost priority and such inflow of investment – whether purely private, public-private or loan/aid based – stands to be therefore on comparable, if not potentially better, terms to urban projects. But the key here, if that is to take place, is utmost prioritisation of rural development involving all manners of schemes, incentives and strict focus.
And once there is proportionately more to spend in the hands of the rural population arising out of increasing rural-development as aforesaid; then rural infrastructure projects can also seriously accelerate such as that relating to rural electrification, housing, construction, roads and transportation et cetera; which in turn will further strengthen the rate of rural development.
And once rural infrastructure takes shape; large industrial and manufacturing activity can increasingly utilise rural/semi-rural spaces; further accelerating rural and overall development.
And so far as the question of lack of funds in the hands of central government is concerned; only one example needs to be cited in order to show that funds can come about if there is serious prioritisation of rural development. This is the case of Narendra Modi offering out of the blue 1.25 Lakh crores to Bihar in recent Bihar elections.
Suddenly, out of the blue, huge funds in the hands of the central government become available when required so on grounds of political expediency. The example serves to show that the argument of absence of funds in the hands of the central government is far from convincing. If the central government goes about engineering funds in relation to serious prioritisation of rural development; funds would become available as they do when required on grounds of political expediency.
Then why successive central governments still do not give priority to rural development ?
This, with a little thought, is not difficult to see.
Political life in India thrives on money power, generally speaking. Witness the astounding amount of money spent in the last general elections on political campaigning; a kind of record in itself. It is well-known that business houses – particularly large Indian business houses – contribute heavily and regularly to funds of political parties. Whenever a particular political party comes into power at the Centre; it is under pressure to return the favour.
Projects which remain under the control of the central government enable the central government to return the favours much more to its liking and discretion. Projects pertaining to rural development are often – as per the scheme of powers provided for in the Constitution – not such desirably in control of the central government as compared to say the recent bullet train project. This together with the fact that rural-based projects run the risk of bringing good light and praise to the concerned state government – which are often of rival political parties – explains why central governments have failed to prioritize rural development to the extent required or demanded.
Politics and political power-play are at the heart of the lack of appropriate prioritization of rural development on part of successive central governments.