New Delhi: India’s rural landscape has transformed with the clear divide that existed between rural and urban areas now blurring and resulting in the creation of a more integrated economy, says a draft action plan for the next three years put out by the federal government’s policy think tank Niti Aayog.
Despite the changing landscape, the creation of jobs has not kept pace with the shift from agriculture to non-farm sectors, the action plan says, identifying low literacy levels, inadequate access to health, drinking water and sanitation as other challenges facing rural areas. Insufficient linkages with and the use of formal financial services was another drawback impeding progress in rural areas, the plan said.
To address these ills, the draft plan suggests that the focus should be on “strengthening the implementation and monitoring of existing schemes for boosting skill development and employment generation as well as providing basic services to all villages.”
“There should also be an emphasis on ensuring digital connectivity and literacy” it said.
According to the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), there were 244.9 million households in India of which 179.7 million households—or 833 million people—were in rural areas. The SECC numbers show that 87.2 million rural households reported one of more criteria of deprivation. And 92 million households are engaged in casual manual labour and agricultural activities.
According to the Niti Aayog paper, which was circulated among chief ministers of 29 states on Sunday at a meeting in New Delhi, the availability of SECC data and Aadhar based payments to beneficiaries directly into their bank accounts, could pave the way towards greater convergence among many different government schemes and programmes for rural areas.
“There should be an emphasis on establishing linkages between MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which guarantees up to 100 days of unskilled work in a year to one member of every rural household) and skill training programmes” to boost the scope of skill development in rural areas, the paper said.
The paper also suggested the creation of a separate fund to manage the upkeep of assets created under the MGNREGA—with “a maximum of 10% of MGNREGA budget could be set aside for this fund with an equal contribution mobilised from the community,” it said adding that care however has to be taken to ensure that the quality of assets created should be maintained.