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DEVELOPING AND UPLIFTING INDIAS VILLAGES

More than three-fourths of India lives in the villages. This was the reason why Gandhiji laid the greatest emphasis on the development of the villages in India-culturally, economically and politicallyand said, If the village perishes, India will perish too. Gandhijis life-ling accent on rural development apart, it would be stressing the obvious to say that Indias progress will remain rather marginal or cosmetic unless it reaches and shows up in the remotest corners of the nations vast countryside or until the villages become the main repository of progress and power. Manifestly, therefore, rural development has been high on Indias agenda ever since the advent of Independence. Indeed, in a country where, as noted above, over 70 per cent of the population is rural, with agriculture as its main source of livelihood, agriculture and agro-industries could not but have a pride of place in the theory and practice of economic planning. Such a planning must aim at raising agricultural output through the supply of modern agro-inputs like better varieties of seeds, scientific methods of farming, expansion of irrigation facilities, chemical fertilizerstogether with a largescale expansion of economic or employment opportunities for the landless labourers and the villageartisans throughout the year. This could be ensured, apart from improving agriculture, by encouraging the consumer goods productionthrough a network of cottage and small-scale industries in the rural areas. Planning along these lines will meet multiple ends of rural development, namely, employment generation and the development of a self-reliant economy in the villages, arresting the large-scale migration of rural manpower to the already overcrowded and pollutionprone urban, industrial centres. At the same time, it would provide the muchneeded purchasing power to the rural families and help lift them out of the strangle hold and privations of the erstwhile colonial-feudal subsistence economy. Towards this end, the First and Second Five Year Plans put the accent on agricultural development through a vastly expanded programme of development of irrigation and power supply to the rural areas through the building of large dams and multipurpose hydroelectric projects, the Community Development Programme and plans of integrated rural development. Even so, when the present government assumed power in Juse 1991, it inherited as the Prime Minister said in a broadcast to the nation on 22 June 1991 an economy in crisiswith the village being the worst sufferers. The Prime Minister, therefore, took the opportunity to assure the farmers and farm workers (who constitute the bulk of the rural population) that agriculture (together with irrigation and extension services) will receive the governments close attention..A fair price to the farmers and rural employment will be ensured. Within less than a year, the government was able to formulate the New Economic Policy (Popularly known as liberalization or economic reforms)which specially addresses the problems of rural poverty, unemployment, agriculture, small industries and overall infrastructural dimensions of the rural poverty syndrome. The main highlights of this multi-dimensional rural development programme are the following: (i) Provision of more than Rs. 30,000 crore for rural uplift and development

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in the Eighth Plan: (ii) Assured employment for 100 days for the rural unemployed in about 2500 blocksbenefiting about 150 lakh persons under the scheme; (iii) Provision of Rs. 15,400 crore for assured rural employment opportunities under the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana; (iv) Construction of eleven lakh houses for the SC/ST people during 1992-94 and the further provision for building an additional one million houses during 1995-96 under the Indira A was Yojanaand the extension of this benefit (of free dwelling) also to non SC/ST weaker section living below the poverty lines, (v) Multiple developmental efforts under the integrated rural development programme with accent on the generation of selfemployment opportunities with a view to ensuring poverty eradication; (vi) Liberal finance and other facilities for small and medium scale farmers, farm labourers, village artisans and other poor people in the villages, together with promotion and expansion of irrigation facilities, animal husbandry and cottage and small-scale industries and making special efforts to ensure that, by and large, the major beneficiaries of the rural integrated programme are the SC/ST classes (50 per cent), women (40 per cent), and the disabled or the handicapped (3-4 per cent), and distribution of economic assistance of the order of Rs. 2800 crore to nearly ninety lakh rural families; (vii) Eradication of water-borne diseases (like diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice etc.) through the supply of clean drinking water to about 2 lakh villages/semi-urban settlements under the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission and the cleaning up of diseasebreeding dirt and filth through the construction of nearly 15 lakh clean toilets in the villages; and (viii) Improvement of the economic position of village women through the Mahila Samridhi Yojana. In addition to these all-India schemes/projects special developmental programmes have been undertaken for regionspecific problems for drought-prone areas, desert areas and wasteland improvement and redemption. The point to note is that the government has been deeply concerned about the problem of rural poverty and the urgent need to eradicate it through comprehensive reforms and developmental projects and schemes. The Prime Minister has not minced words about it even while talking to potential foreign investors in India. He spoke about it at the World Economic Forum at Davos in February 1994 and said: In the new-found enthusiasm for change, governments should not go overboard and plunge large chunks of their people into mass misery. They have no right to do that. I am not propounding any theory. I am merely saying that I have no right to throw millions of people out of their jobs overnight just because I want a particular change. If someone asks me to do so, I would say, in all humility, that either he does not know my country, or he does not know what I am really trying to do. Apparently, he was driving at the point that whether the economic reformswith their accent on liberalization and entrepreneurshipthe rural people, often living along or below the poverty line, would receive due attention through full-scale State assistance or otherwise. The wide-ranging programmes for rural welfare and uplift are in keeping with this commitmenteven as they are intended to carry economic progress, and development to every home and individual or to the Last Main, as Gandhiji had envisaged. Agriculture occupies the centre-stage in any scheme of rural development and uplift in India, as it is the mainstay of the nations economy, even as it engages directly and otherwise about 80.90 per cent of the village population. However, lately, agricultures share in total national investment has been falling. From 19 per cent in the eighties, it has

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come down to 11 per cent currently, though the government investment has stayed around 19 per cent during the Elighth Plan years. It is therefore desirable to attract, through appropriate policies, substantial private investment into agricultureand to encourage and promote export of agricultural producelike Basmati rice, fruits and flowers. This is one of the aims of the current agriculture policy. Accordingly, the Prime Minister has declared: What the government wants to give to the agriculturists and the farmer of this country is to open the gates for exports and to provide all facilities and incentives (to the farmers to this end). The agriculturist must proudly say that he is producing not only for this country but also for exportsand he is getting the full benefit out of it. This is what we want. If agriculture becomes a lucrative vocation and yields an income comparable to that earned from other professions, it will help generate large-scale employment and boost the rural economy. This, is turn, will not only benefit the villages and lift them out of the morass or poverty but will also relieve of pressure on the morass of poverty but will also relieve of pressure on the cities, halting large-scale emigration of the rural folks in search of employment. Land reforms and consolidation of holdings is an important operational input into the process of boosting agriculture and generating more purchasing power in the villages. In this context, 22 states/union territories have enacted laws for the enforcement of ceiling on agricultural holdings. As a result of these measures, seventy-five lakh acres of land has been rendered surplus for distribution among the landless, poor rural families. Of this surplus, over 51 lakh acres has/already been distributed/allotted to 50 lakh SC/ST families. Even so, the present government felt that the pace of distribution was rather slow. Hence, in October 1991, it launched a special drives which helped distribute nearly four lakh acres of surplus land within a short span of four months. Later, in Januray 1994, 27 land reform laws (enacted by different states) were incorporated in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so as to protect them from dilatory litigation. Furthermore, with a view to streamlining the process of maintaining land records, a full-fledged centrally-sponsored computerized system (for keeping the records) has been launched since 1991 with 100 per cent Central assistance. To this end, the Central government has provided assistance amounting to Rs. 20 crore, which has helped the computerization scheme in 192 districts across the country. In addition to the wide-ranging programme of expanding and developing agriculturewhich is the mainstay or rural economythe Union Budget (1995-96) announced a two-track straegy which (according to the Finance Minister) aims at accelerating growth, investment and modernization, on the one track, and strengthening anti-poverty programmes (in the rural areas) on the other. The major programmes in this context are in the areas of rural employment, small-scale industries, social security, rural water supply and education. More importantly, while the funds and resources for the implementation of these developmental projects have been provided by the government, their utilization has been left to the newly-decentralised and democratized Panchayti-Raj institutions following the adoption of the historic 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992), which is a step towards the fulfillment of Gandhis vision of Village Swaraj. In keeping with the governments strategy of giving priority to programmes for rural advancement, the provisions for the current financial year concentrate on rural development, employment generation, poverty-alleviation and human resource

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development. As scuh, the outlay on rural development for 1995-96 has been increased to Rs. 7700 crore. As regards employment generation in the villages, the budget allocation for the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY) and the Assured Employment Scheme (AES) has been increased to Rs.5432 crore. These twin programmes are estimated to generate 1290 million man-days of rural employment by the end of the financial year. Besides, a provision has been made under the Prime Ministers Rozger Yojana of an amount of Rs. 145 crore to provide employment to about 1.5 million educated unemployed youth. A sum of Rs. 130 crore has been earmarked for rural employment generation programmes. Khadi and village industries provide crucial nonfarm earning opportunities to the rural population. The handloom sector provides employment to millions of weavers. Steps have recently been taken to accelerate the flow or credit to them from the government and the banking system amounting to Rs. 1000 crore during the year. Besides, the small scale sector employs altogether 15 million workers and accounts for over 40 percent of Indias manufacturing output and 35 per cent of its exports. In order to strengthen this sector, 100 branches of nationalized banks will set up special cells to ensure adequate credit flow to it. Under the National Social Assistance Scheme, provisions have been made for (i) a national minimum old-age pension of Rs. 75 per month to people beyond 65 years of age, who are below the poverty line: (ii) lump sum survivor benefit of Rs. 5000 (to poor households) on the death of the main bread-earner; (iii) provision for pre-natal and postnatal care and treatment (until two months after delivery) to women from the weaker sections. This social security and assistance schemedesigned to lighten the pangs of rural povertyis estimated to benefit 15 millions persons. Of them 10 million will be women. Besides, the poor families will be covered under a liberal Group Insurance Schemewhich will provide an insurance cover of Rs. 5000 to one earning member of a household for a modest annual premium of Rs. 70. Also, the Central outlay on primary education has currently been increased by about 25 per centtotaling Rs. 650 crore. The surest way to end rural poverty and ensure all-round development of the village would be through economic growth. This is precisely what the economic reforms seek to achieve. However, the full impact of the reforms may take some time to reach every family, especially among the poorer sectors. The various programmes of employment generation, primary education, health care and social security assistance are intended to make for a smooth transition from the age old state of back wardness and poverty dating from the colonial times to a new dawn of plenty and prosperity. Soci-economic development, along modern and scientific lines, is knocking, as it were, at the doors of rural India. The government had done its bit during the past four yearsand is fully committed to do its utmost in the years to come. But it is necessary for this commitment to percolate down to the masses, to every individual citizen, in the village as much as in the towns. One of the lessons of history is that sort of popular awareness and involvement is best generated by direct experience in self-government. Happily, in India, the wide-ranging economic reforms and programmes of rural development have coincided with an extensive and fuller application of Panchayati Raj, following the 73rd Amendment. This marriage of rural self-government and a determined will to grow economically at the grassroots is bound to impart an irreversible and dynamic thrust to the process of rural advancement in all its dimensionseconomic, political, social and cultural. Hence the time is not far when Indias villages will emerge as living examples of Gandhis vision of a vibrant,

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decentralised economic, political, social and cultural. Hence the time is not far when Indias villages will emerge as living examples of Gandhis vision of a vibrant, decentralised polity and economy and will epitomize Schumachers famous saying: Small is beautiful.

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