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  Volunteer Tales >> Rural Development – India’s Villages – Status and Needs

Rural Development – India’s Villages – Status and Needs

Check dam in Rajasthan

Ram Krishanan writes about his explorations of problems and solutions of the disempowered.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series of articles published in the IIT Madras Alumni Quarterly newsletter from Chennai India

Part 1 serves as an introduction to Village life in India and what are some of the key factors in Rural Development. Realizing that I was myself a city-kid, born and brought up in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, I started traveling to India’s villages in 2002. The villages have not benefited from 55+ years of India’s freedom. This article derives from visits all over India

India’s villages are beginning to make progress but still have a long way to go. Many islands of transformed villages where people are gainfully employed, children are going to school, water and sewage needs are properly met, exist. But they have not spread out to the remaining villages in India.

We will describe in this 3-part article, the progress to date, the future ahead and what you can do to “make a difference”. In this first part, I will describe what our villages look like, what are some of their problems, name a few successful model villages, describe a few village tours taken by myself and some other volunteers.

In the second part, I will attempt to describe a few rural projects where IITM alumni have taken the lead and started getting involved. I hope to appeal to other alumni to consider similar projects also.

In the third part, I will try to provide simple and specific guidelines for you to get involved. Most of the people that I meet and discuss these issues are quite interested in helping but have no clue where to get started.

Start of the Article Part 1
A typical village

Every village is unique. A typical village has

•About 800 families or 3,000 people
•Most men have no permanent jobs.
•Children do not have a good role model.
•After high school most young men and women leave the village for a nearby metropolitan town in search of jobs.
•Only 30% of the people own the lands
•The other 70% work as day laborers
•Villager is trying to earn Rs 51.00 per day
•Caste system is alive and active in the village.

Village demographics.

Only about 8% of the villagers are large farmers with half the total farmlands. Almost 60% of the villagers are not farmers and do not own any land. This group of villagers works in the agricultural fields as ‘hired-hands’ during the planting, reseeding and harvest seasons. During the rest of the year, this group work as day laborers whenever there is some work. The most common daily work is breaking large stones to smaller stones used in house building. They earn about Rs 51 per day for a whole day of work. The current official “Below Poverty Level” (BPL) is set at Rs 2,500 per month per family.

How do you take a village and transform it?

I certainly do not wish to make it sound like there is a simple remedy or a set of factors which will guarantee immediate and full conversion. From the foothills of Himalaya in the State of Uttaranchal with its many water streams to the desert in Rajasthan to the Deccan plateau to Kanya Kumari, every region is different. In spite of these vast differences, from my travels thru India and listening to various rural development experts, we can identify the following 10 key facts. Please consider them in the specific sequence below.

Water: It always starts with water. If there is no water, there is no village. In many parts of the world, including India, where there is little water, women are forced to spend 2 to 3 hours a day, fetching water. Once a village has water, it entirely transforms the village.The best examples of rural water harvesting and management can be found in the eastern half of Rajasthan where Rajender Singh and his field volunteers called Tarun Bharat Sangh have made a world of difference.

Food Security: Food security refers to increasing crop yields, protecting harvests, ensuring good and stable prices. It also means growing the right combination of crops. In many cases, the farmer sells his crop to a middleman for 10% of its full retail value. On the food supply chain, the raw crop is stored in a storage facility to match the demand versus supply. Then it is refined, processed, packaged for retail consumption. These later 2 steps add more value to the crop and are mostly done in larger cities where the storage and processing factories exist. One example to reverse this trend and benefit the farmer is in the case of tomatoes. Instead of simply bringing and selling the tomatoes to the urban markets, can we bring some of the processing such as making tomato paste, ketchup etc back to the villages.

Income Generation: Every person, city or a village dweller, needs an income. We need to create an economic activity that produces revenue but also helps the village economy. Yes, it must help the village economy. And where possible, a good percent of this income must be spent within the village. For example, when the villager who earns a daily wage of Rs 51, spends 5 rupees to buy a soap made by a large corporation in a large city, that is 5 rupees that left the village on a one way journey. This bar of soap provided a job for someone in the large city, but kept that villager poor.

Health and Sanitation: The villager needs mostly basic health and sanitation. When food is available, they eat a hardy meal but meals are not regular and many are malnourished. Villages are usually pollution free but in most villages you will find the domestic sewage flowing in the main street. The best way to handle the sewage is to construct a soak pit and you have a clean and dry main street.

[Figure – Sewage water in the street]

Most villages do not have any medical clinic, doctor or a nurse. When they need medical help, they usually travel many miles to the nearest clinic in another town.

[Figure – BCT Trust, Haripuram, A.P]

All the villages need to construct a multi-use small building that can host many services and act as a platform.

InfrastructureVillage infrastructure is just like a city infrastructure. It starts with roads, water systems, sewage collection, streetlights and related items. The farmer will appreciate the availability of a road to take his crops to the nearest market. Water is usually pumped from the ground water supply. Villagers must pump the water using a hand pump. Even in a village, where the water is pumped up to overhead storage tank and delivered with gravity, it is a common sight to see water flowing freely from an open tap and being wasted. Most village panchayats do not collect enough revenue from the residents to pay their village electricity bill. These payment arrears go back to 3 to 4 years.

Education:Only a minority of villages have schools and that too usually upto the middle school. For higher secondary school, the children have to travel to a nearby larger town. If you donate a bicycle to a student, you can help that student go to the higher secondary school. But what happens after that is a sad story. The students after they finish their schooling often look for a job in a nearby large city adding to the decay of the city. The Gandhigram Rural Institute in Dindukal offers a schooling that combines science education as well as what is required to succeed in villages.

Energy: Most villages are totally dark at night. The villagers go to sleep at sun down. The government indicates a village as being electrified if the main high-tension wire passes though the village on its way to feeding the power for the factories in a large city. When the electric power is available in a village, the villager cannot afford it plus the supply is intermittent (like in the cities).

[Figure – Solar street lighting – Odamthurai

Micro-Credit: Everyone knows what a loan shark or a ‘pattan’ looks like. He is the one standing next to the factory gate and collecting his interest payments from the employee as soon as he gets a paycheck. Until recently, in many parts of India, the same was true in villages. The entire village will be indebted to an outside moneylender. If any one in a village made 100 rupees, it went to the moneylender. Partially due to the success of micro-loans made popular in Bangla Desh by Mohammed Yunus and similar minded people in India, we now have self-help groups. A typical self-help group in a village consists of 20 women who save Rs 50 every month and put it into a common savings account. This may sound as a very tiny amount. The total amount of such savings today in India runs into hundreds of crores of Rupees. These SHG’s have put an end to the indebtedness of these villages and given their pride back.

Self-Help Groups: SHG’s are playing a great role in saving money. But their role is more

than that. Think of them as the economic engine in a village. The ‘graam saba’ (‘sabai’ in the South) consisting of all eligible voters in the village elects the ‘panchayat council’. The Panchayat council with its ‘Sarpanch’ (or ‘thalaivar’) develops programs and projects to improve the life and welfare of the villagers.
[Figure- SHG group near Madurai]
The Panchayat council turns around and engages the SHG to initiate the project. Say the SHG in a village has 2 lakhs in their savings account. They go to a nearby Canara Bank or a rural bank, offering their 2 lakhs as collateral (meaning this 2 lakhs is untouched) to obtain a matching amount. The GOI is waiting to match this bank’s loan once more. Now the SHG has raised a loan of Rs 4 lakhs that can be used for an income generating economic activity. The net income generated after covering all costs can be used partially to repay the bank loan and partially to start another income generating activity. To complete the loop, at least 60% of the revenue generated must be used in purchasing other village services and product. We cannot allow this hard earned income to be misused buying items produced in large cities mostly by MNC’s.

Telecom / Internet: Did you know that many villages already have satellite dishes to receive TV programs? Telecom and Internet allow the villagers both connectivity as well as access to information. Given the rate at which cell phones are multiplying in India, we may find within a few years, that villagers also start using cell phones. This is much easier way to provide telecommunications instead of spending crores of rupees to lay underground wires (or overground). Internet services such as WLL by Ashok Jhunjhunwala in IITM, or Tarahaat by Ashok Khosla of Development Alternatives in Delhi or Drishti allow Internet access to a group of villages in a radius of 30 km by sending the Internet transmission from a central tower using wireless. Uses of such Internet services include delivery of key government documents, access to medical services from a nearby city (or anywhere in the world), educational materials, information on health and hygiene and the list goes on. The first popular item in a village Internet kiosk is usually a matrimonial matching service.

Four village visits – Train journey’s – across India (and some bus trips).
I started visiting India with a clear focus of visiting villages and learning the realities about 2 years ago. My first visit to a village was in Gujrat in Dec 2001 to see for myself the ravages of the massive earthquake. This village was Vijaypar, located 2 hours driving distance from Bhuj in the Rapar District. I must admit that I forced myself to watch the movie ‘lagaan’ as a learning guide since I was told the movie was shot near Bhuj. Then in October 2002, I had another opportunity to visit Kuthambakkam, near Chennai and actually spend 3 days in the village. This encouraged me to make an extended tour of India by train for 15 days visiting villages in the north, center and south. Then most recently in Jan 2004, I went on a tour of certain villages in Haryana, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

To conserve space for this article, I will provide the reader with the Internet links to the four journeys.

Lessons learned from these trips:“India is a rich country. Indians are very poor". How do we reconcile this problem? India has the most fertile agricultural lands, gets the 5th or 6th largest amount of rainfall in the world. With these resources that nature has endowed India with, how can we be a poor country.
"It takes a genius to keep India poor"..
Dr Parameshwara Rao – Yellamanchili in Andhra Pradesh – Bhagavathula Charitable Trust.
So where is the problem. According to the village groups that I have met..
1. There is a total disconnect between the city folk and village folk.
2. Every one in the village complains that the people who plan their programs sitting in various "bhavans" in Delhi have no clue.
3. Political parties have infiltrated into the panchayat councils and taken away the funds that must belong to the villages.
I am now convinced that all the knowledge, skills and appropriate techniques to rebuild India's villages is here in India. We do not need to import any of these from abroad. But we do need to kick-start some of the efforts in some places, while scaling-up already proven successes to other parts of India.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series of articles published in the IIT Madras Alumni Quarterly newsletter from Chennai India