PURA for the Rural Poor
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PURA for the Rural Poor

A. Sushil Kumar

All our lives we are constantly exposed to Taglines which build a brand identity for products and services. Sample these: A Diamond is Forever (De Beers); Just Do It (Nike); The Taste of India (Amul); The Complete Man (Raymond); The Pause that Refreshes (Coke); Have a Break. Have a KitKat...

But in the past few weeks, the 'Covidised' world has given birth to a new super Tagline: 'Stay Home. Stay Safe.' Yes, when the invisible life-threatening virus strikes at our very existence, we wish to take refuge in a place which embodies safety, wellbeing and the family: our home.

Well, the same sentiment applies to the millions of migrant workers across the country too. Why is there a mad scramble and panic to board the next bus or train and make a beeline for their villages? Because they too wish to stay home, stay safe and stay alive. And their past experience, and especially during the current pandemic, has proved that the cities and towns where they toil are not safe havens, more so in an emergency.

To impart a sense of dignity, we may use politically correct terms like 'guest workers;' but that's more for optics, because actually they feel like 'ghost workers', shunned by most; and ghosts, it is said, don't have a permanent abode. In the overall scheme of things, migrants are never treated as key stakeholders, particularly when their precious lives are at stake. A mass of people who, till a few weeks back, were considered as low-cost super-facilitators, are now being perceived as potential super-spreaders.

Since COVID is a once-in-an-era type of happening, it is perfectly understandable that there will always be a plethora of complex issues to grapple with. And it must be conceded that the concerned authorities and service providers are valiantly fighting to overcome this unprecedented challenge. The immediate priority is, of course, prevention & treatment, besides food, shelter, liquidity and essential utilities and goods & services.

As weeks go by, we may have to look beyond pandemic-centric tactics to sustainable livelihood-driven strategies. And this is where the present adversity provides opportunities to implement long-term solutions to stem the large scale migration from rural to urban areas.

In this unanticipated 2020 backdrop, it would be pertinent to remember the pet project of India's 'People President,' Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (2002-2007). Surprisingly, the initiative that he mooted in early 2000s was termed 'Vision 2020'. And the cornerstone of this initiative was ‘PURA.’

PURA, an acronym for 'Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas,' was a long-term initiative designed, primarily, to tackle the problem of migration of people from rural to urban areas for employment. Dr. Abdul Kalam was of the view that since nearly three-fourths of our population live in rural areas, by neglecting rural development, India cannot become a developed nation.

In his Republic Day Presidential Address of 2003, President Kalam emphasised that the vision of transformation to a developed India can only be realised if we launch a mega mission for empowering rural people—basically, by providing four elements of connectivity: physical connectivity, electronic connectivity, knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity of rural areas. PURA was envisaged as a self-sustainable and viable model of service delivery to be implemented through a framework involving different stakeholders, namely local people, public authorities and the private sector.

The fifth death anniversary of India's most revered President falls in July 2020. Perhaps, an ideal tribute would be to revisit and reimagine the Vision 2020 Strategy, and pragmatically integrate it with upcoming Plans, to deliver a better future for the poor, needy and disadvantaged majority.

Today's buzzword, 'Work From Home,' may be a temporary fad for the select few. But for millions of uprooted fellow-countrymen, 'Work Near Home' is a much-cherished dream. Hopefully, the 'Stay Home. Stay Safe' Tagline of the privileged few, will become metamorphosed into a national Lifeline for all.

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Currently, A. Sushil Kumar is Co-Founder, Grochange Global, and Chief Mentor, Mansions. Earlier roles include Dean, Amrita School of Business; Global Head (M&C), Amrita TV; CEO & Mentor, Popular Vehicles.

The facts and views expressed in the article are that of the author

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