Millennium Post

Realising dreams

The father of the nation was of the opinion that "The future of India lies in its villages". But with the remarkable degree of changes that India has grown through since Independence and the scale of rural to urban migration that has been the prevalent practice, Indian villages have changed and acquired a distinct form which was arguably not possible to foresee seven decades ago. The primary characteristic of a village is that the majority of the population is engaged in agricultural practices. This traditional method provided variety and diversity to agricultural practices in keeping with distinct seasons and regional environments. Now, with most of agriculture being mainstreamed as farmers struggle to earn their livelihood, most of primary food crops are grown from the perspective of sale and not consumption. Hence, constricting the diversity of agricultural practice and in the process, considerably altering the character of villages. As other means of livelihood make inroads in villages, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the rural jobs scheme which guarantees work to the poor in India's villages, has come to define afresh Indian villages and village life. As matters stand, there has been a sharp increase of 25 per cent in the number of people given jobs under the MGNREGA over the past five years since 2014-15. Economists are of the opinion that the jump would have been sharper if more funds had been made available under the programme. Data produced by Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in Lok Sabha on Tuesday reveal that the total number of individuals who worked under the scheme across the country has gone up from 6.22 crore in 2014-15 to 7.77 crore in 2018-19. This is largely interpreted as a reflection of the joblessness of which India's rural areas are not exempt and which further asserts is the cause behind the tremendous fall in consumer demand across the length and breadth of India. Dr Pronab Sen, ex-Chairman of the National Statistical Commission, put is briefly that "It represents the extent of joblessness or of distress in rural India". Tomar explained that MGNREGA is a "demand-driven wage employment programme" which means that the scheme provides jobs based on people queuing up for them. It is in this respect that economists feel that the jump would have been sharper had more funds been made available under the programme. Data provided by Tomar show that Central funds for the programne went up from Rs 32,977.42 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 61,829.55 crore. In the current financial year, till November 11, 2019, the Central government has already released Rs 52,845.74 crore, or nearly 88 per cent of the year's allocation, for MGNREGA. Officials maintain that "If we even release funds at the same rate for the rest of the year, then we will need at least Rs 45,000 crore-Rs 50,000 crore to run the programme for the remaining period of the year".

While matters continue to be grim on the employment front, various government schemes such as the rural housing scheme and schemes for bringing piped water to villages has in a manner anchored people to the villages, besides lack of employment opportunities elsewhere. Numerous surveys have confirmed that rural distress has been hitting hard the people living in India's villages. A consumer spending survey recently completed by the National Statistical Office (which has been junked by the government) showed that rural spending has contracted 8.8 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18. Assessment of rural poverty have not so far factored in multi-dimensional changes in the rural sector in the last five years. For the rural households that do not migrate to urban areas for very low paid, both jobs and survival are possible with improved rural infrastructure, housing, etc in rural areas. Low increase in prices of agricultural commodities and the slower increase in rural agricultural wages have considerably contributed to the crisis for the rural poor. Indicators like nutrition, child mortality, number of years of schooling, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets determine multi-dimensional poverty. By addressing these areas of concern and explore the particulars pertaining to the rural sector, the condition of Indian villages could be significantly upgraded and made self-sufficient. Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana was launched on November 20, 2016 with the aim of providing housing for all in rural areas. While interacting with beneficiaries of this scheme, Tomar said that although a housing scheme for rural poor did exist before the Modi government, its poor implementation bureaucratic hurdles kept the results from being accomplished. Making this programme more comprehensive with inclusion of amenities like water, gas, toilet, and electricity supply in all the households, etc., rural India has seen some over all improvement. Now, with respect to construction of houses under the scheme has more units are intended to be accomplished with the use of direct benefit transfer platform. The announcement that 87 lakh homes in different parts of the country have already been completed and the aim to have 2 crores 95 lakh houses by 2022 will likely give a desirable make over to the villages with respect to its economy primarily. The transformation to 'pucca' house and the boosted social status and standard of living coming with it are valuable incentives for natives of villages to live there and not migrate for meagre wages. With concerted efforts to resolve the issue of unemployment in rural areas, Indian villages could be self sufficient and hubs of prosperity.

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