Friday, March 13, 2009

VILLAGES, INFRASTRUCTURE AND DEVELOPMENT

The last two weeks I have lived in an English village named Tattenhall; the name of the village is derived from words that correspond to 'a meadow'. This village is actually an area of rolling meadows with large tracts of land owned by farmers, who not only specialise in farming but horses too!!, and some of them race horses. The village has a population of 1986 people, as per the 2001 census. I am not attempting to write a history of this village. All I am trying to do is to highlight certain important facts that I have observed during my 2 weeks of stay here.

The village is a village only in name, as we understand it, as it has all the basic infrastructure that is available in any town or city. I stayed in this Bed and Breakfast place. I had a wireless internet connection in my room, a TV, 24 hours electric supply, heating and 24 hours piped hot and cold water supply. The entire village has all these facilities, and is connected to two international airports, Manchester and Liverpool, a rail station and a bus station by means of a narrow, but well marked two-lane tarred road. The village is also connected by a local bus service. The village of 1986 people also boasts of a Primary school, a post office, a veterinary doctor, a 'Rookery surgery', a child care & old age centre and a small shopping complex with a pharmacy, atleast four restaurants and a few other establishments. It also has garbage collection. Why am I highlighting these facts?
The reason is that the availability of basic infrastructure and the relatively lower cost of doing business in a village attracted an international business to be setup in this place. The school that I attended for the last 2 weeks is of an international standard with central air conditioning and every other thing that one can think of. In my two weeks here I have attended classes with students from the US, Maldives, UK, Russia, Denmark, Belgium and Germany. Students from all over the world come to this school in the village. Why? Cheaper prices and professional training. All this has been possible because this village has the basic infrastructure to support a business.

I have travelled and stopped, but have never stayed, in villages in the US and Canada. My experience has been very similar in these two countries too. Village folks are much simpler than their city brethren and are more family oriented. Their dress, speech and less stressful life is noticeable. However, they enjoy the same facilities as the people in the cities, at the basic level. This has always amazed and fascinated me. I have lived in a village in Punjab as a child, while on school vacations during the 60s. It was very very basic then - our water was brought from the 'village spring', and we had to trek about 3 kms to bathe in the river Beas. There was no electricity and the only bus would make a round once a day to the village from Pathankot - it used to drop us on the main road about 1 km away from the village. The post man used to walk along the river and hand over the letters for the village to any one he found along the river bank. Life was very basic in the village in those days, and is still so in many ways.

Things have improved since then. We now claim to have electricity in nearly every village - we may not have electric supply though for most part of the day. Flying at high altitude by night along the border areas of Punjab right down to Gujarat one can pick up the border with ease - our side is electrified, and the other side is pretty dark. However, there is a lot to be desired still, and we have a long way to go.

With rapid development taking place in India, the migration to the cities is accelerating as there is no infrastructure to support businesses in the rural areas, which still house over 70% of our population. Big cities are the only places that provide some sort of an infrastructure to run viable businesses. Businesses are thus coming up in and around big cities. People from villages are migrating to the cities looking for opportunities, creating more and more slums in the bargain. The only way to stop this migration is by encouraging businesses to move to rural settings by providing the infrastructure in terms of roads, power supply, water, schools, ITIs - to upgrade knowledge and skills of rural people so as to be able to work in these businesses, and incentives for businesses to do so. This will help retain people in their villages and also help bring down costs of business. I believe the SEZs were attempting this by planning new townships beyond our big cities but then our politicians will never let any thing happen without controversies - a la Mamta Banerjee style. I do hope that the SEZs come up quickly so that the migration from the rural areas can be slowed.

Provision of basic infrastructure would also prompt big developers to develop country villas and country homes for those who can afford (over 50 million, I believe) - this has already happened around a number of cities, notably Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, etc. These big enclaves generate a lot of employment for unskilled/ semi skilled rural folks, in addition to other skilled jobs, in terms of construction, security, gardener, and various other jobs. The only way forward for us in India is to provide basic infrastructure to our villages so as to help provide better opportunities to the 70% of our rural population. This will also stem the migration from rural to urban areas and also help in slowing the buildup of slums in our cities. Can this happen???? How can we help make this happen??? Any ideas????

8 comments:

Usha Pisharody said...

The only way forward for us in India is to provide basic infrastructure to our villages so as to help provide better opportunities to the 70% of our rural population. This will also stem the migration from rural to urban areas and also help in slowing the buildup of slums in our cities.

This is an observation that certainly is keen and thought provoking. The heart of India lies in its villages, and yet, not much has been done to assuage the heartburn of the villages, right?

If only one were able to ensure that the progress in infrastructure we grant the cities, were also given to the villages, and surely the Government Agencies have been allotted and earmarked certain amounts for deployment in the said areas, we would be able to paint a prettier picture, both in villages and cities.

You do say it true, when you say that with development in villages one can reduce the overcrowding and slum settlements in cities.

But the keystone to existence in our nation is corruption, which has been the major obstacle to development! In the absence of a mechanism to check that, it can only be the involvement of Corporates, of like minded individuals, SEZs as you say, that could carry forth some hope!

By the way, that was a lovely picture, of Golden Daffodils? Seemed to be so :)

Indyeah said...

A very thought provoking post sir!
I started reading about Tattenhall and smiled thinking as to how this is such a far cry from the image of village I have in my mind..that is the villages in india..


and then I reached this part,''With rapid development taking place in India, the migration to the cities is accelerating as there is no infrastructure to support businesses in the rural areas, which still house over 70% of our population''
so true..We are unable to provide any basic facilities properly to our villages(or the cities for that matter)
and when we cannot provide the most basic facilities poperly then Tattenhall looks like afr fetched dream..:(

infact even our cities lack a good stable infrastructure and good airports...


and yes as you rightly say, slums keep increasing in the meantime ...


yes our politicians have their own agendas..Mamata Banerjee is just plain irritating and someone ..the govt needs to deal seriously with these kind of characters..

the ideas are few and far in between..

I am hoping that armed with RTI files will move more quickly and loans will get passed sooner without the need to grease palms...that farmers can have adequate transport and storage facilities...



these and a lot of other things..
but I really dont think the govt will be able to (or wants to or i8s motivated to)do all of this..so the only way is NGO's and self help schemes..and co-operatives like The mahila Griha Udyog or Amul or SEWA...and setting up of more cottage industries...


these ideas are being practised but in very low numbers..

L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

Last week I was in Kerala and there the villages are exactly like the one you have described here. In terms of infrasctructure, it is hard to mark a line and say this is where the urban areas end and rural areas begin.

Recently a world bank report "advised" India not to be alarmed by the fact that some areas are getting more developed than others. In fact they said migration to such areas should be encouraged. They quoted examples of developed countries to say that this was natural.

While there is some merit in that thought, I totally agree that we must provide basic infrastructure in all places.

J P Joshi said...

Usha: Yes, the need of the hour in India is better infrastructure - both in the cities, and villages too. Villages are lagging way behind, as per my understanding - otherwise why would the businesses not move there. Corruption is really a problem with most government agencies involved in any kind of development work - hopefully with RTI and the help of some dedicated NGOs we would see some improvement in this biggest bane of our society.

My last friday evening at that place was dedicated to daffodils - the really beautiful flowers heralding the onset of spring in that place - I have brought some photographs - am planning to post them on my blog for people like you who appreciate the work of William Wordsworth, and for those who really admire the Daffodils - as soon as I can upload it from my camera.

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: I agree, our infrastructure is woefully inadequate to support our growth, even in the cities. In Yelahanka, Bangalore, we have power cuts for about 3-6 hours every day. Our office comes to a standstill, home is another issue altogether - we are planning to invest in an inverter - Chennai has been the only city where we had 24 hours electric supply during the three years that we lived there.

Yes, dedicated NGOs and RTI can help in many ways and are already doing so, but like you say numbers are small. Large SEZs would help open new towns and also help in providing employment to the local rural population, besides other professionals.

J P Joshi said...

LVS: I have been to Kerala only once in 1995 in a bus from Coimbatore to Guruvayoor and back. I did find the state very horizontal like you say - village and cities merged with hardly any vertical structures. I donot have any first hand knowledge of the present state in Kerala, but if like you say there is hardly any difference in the infrastructure as compared to Tattenhall, then it is very good indeed - has the heavy influx of Gulf money anything to do with it, or do we underestimate the good that the Communist government has done for Kerala. I am not too sure how this has come about. I would love to have your take on this - you always have some amazing facts - I am always fascinated with your research.

What you are saying about world bank is true, but wouldn't it be better if we got newer townships built around groupings of rural dwellings than have all these people moving into existing towns/ cities that cannot cope with the influx - leading to regional politicians like Raj Thackerey to incite violence, against the spirit of the constitution of India???

Piper .. said...

Its too herculean to change the way the government functions. What we pbly need is an extensive 'people`s movement' - involvement of the common man to bring out a gradual change. Grass root level change. Involvement of students in spreading awareness amongst people. An active movement to counter the corruption and coerce the government into doing some good.

J P Joshi said...

Piper: I see positive signs of it already happening for this general election. The younger generation is taking a stand on issues and there are media organisations taking up people's issues and giving a lowdown on the candidates. Our diversity is our biggest strength in the long term but sometimes in the short term it becomes a weakness, as our politicians exploit it for personal gains. It is going to happen in this election too. This election is going to throw up a very fractured mandate, I believe, with regional parties dictating terms and issues. Depending on which way the electorate votes it could be good or bad... we will have to wait and watch. I am only hoping that developmental issues stay on the forefront with any government that forms after this election. Hoping for the best.