Urban rural divide

Urban rural divide

Narendra M Apte

Social scientists, economists as also students of India’s rural economics argue that there is a divide between urban and rural India. Often it is argued that rural areas of our country are citizens of ‘Bharat’ and the urban citizens belong to ‘India’. They wish to point out at vast disparity between standard of living enjoyed by a majority of rural people and standard of living in urban areas.

I think urban rural divide is far more pronounced in most of our Hindi speaking states, especially, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and in Odisha. Of course, it is also seen in some districts of economically better off states too.

During last seven decades our country achieved good economic progress on the industrial front and the agricultural front. Industrial growth led to urbanization, particularly after seventies. Is the urban rural divide a myth or reality? Is it a phenomenon which is observed only in India? I think disparity in economic growth of different regions of our country and within regions is a universal reality. We should accept it as a challenge and make strive to narrow the gap.

Another dimension of the urban rural divide is problems arising out of migration of rural poor to urban areas in search of jobs. It is often observed that civic infrastructure in our cities, towns and other urban areas is not adequate to bear the burden of the migrating rural poor. Most of the poor have no resources and can hardly afford to rent houses. In fact there is nothing like affordable houses for the poor in cities and towns. Invariably the rural poor are forced to live in slums.

After liberalization of economy, we have witnessed rapid growth in sectors like automobiles, man-made textiles and service industries. Although per capita income of country’s population has increased over this period, income level in urban areas has risen at a higher rate as compared to the income level of the rural population. Farmers’ income has increased but the number of rural people below the poverty line has not shown a significant fall. Is it not a reality that in many of our metros there are millions of poor people?

What is situation in our rural areas? Roads are poor and connectivity with district Headquarters is rather unsatisfactory. Even primary education facilities do not exist in most of villages. Healthcare facilities, particularly dispensaries, are not available. Public transport, tap water, electricity and several other amenities like post office, banks, amenities usually available in urban areas, are not available in our rural areas.

With an objective to address these issues of lack of availability of urban facilities and infrastructure in rural areas, late President of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam had highlighted a vision of transformation of rural India by launching a large-scale mission for Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA).

On the eve of India’s 54th Republic Day, in 2003, Dr. Kalam addressed the nation explaining country’s citizens his vision for a new India. He visualized providing four elements of connectivity: physical connectivity, electronic connectivity, knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity of rural areas and where there would be a lesser urban rural divide. PURA was envisaged as a self-sustainable and viable model of service delivery to be managed through an implementation framework between the different stakeholders involved, namely local people, public authorities and the private sector.

PURA, as proposed by Dr Kalam, envisaged that urban infrastructure and services be provided in rural hubs to create economic opportunities outside of cities. Dr Kalam’s vision for India in 2020 meant that physical connectivity (by providing roads), electronic connectivity (by providing communication network), and knowledge connectivity (by establishing professional and Technical institutions) will have to be done in an integrated way so that economic connectivity will emanate. Dr Kalam’s vision was a huge vision. Then Prime Minister of India late Shri A B Vajpayee had announced implementation of a PURA scheme in his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2003.

Unfortunately, however, after defeat of NDA government in 2004, new government of UPA led by Shri Man Mohan Singh did not pursue implementation of PURA scheme, as envisaged by Dr Kalam, though in 2012 it did make some efforts to restructure PURA.

When we wish to narrow the income gap of people living in urban and rural areas, we should make simultaneous efforts to decongest cities as millions live in shanties and slums. Both the Central and State governments’ policies and programmes meant for the poor in rural and urban areas have to be integrated to ensure that basic objective of PURA is not overlooked.

(Narendra M Apte, a qualified chartered accountant, is a free lancer.)