India has about 600,000 villages with over 800 million people (65% of the population) living in them. An absence of development has meant that there is a severe lack of opportunities for young people in villages. The drop-out rate from schools is increasing in rural India. Over 44% of the rural youth discontinue their education due to several reasons: Financial constraints, lack of interest, absence of proper school facilities and lack of access to electricity among other things. At the same time, the open economic policy and Internet boom have raised their expectations. This mismatch between reality/lack of opportunities in the villages and the expectations of the youth is leading to large-scale disgruntlement and this is not a healthy sign for any country.
One way of meeting these challenges will be to develop smart villages. This will be expensive and the government can rope in corporate houses to transform these villages in a time-bound manner. A substantial part of the 2% mandatory provision for Corporate Social Responsibility funds can be diverted towards this need.
There are over 1,000 listed companies in India. The government can ask the financially strong ones to adopt 25 to 50 villages per year, depending on their profit margin. Since the expenditure to transform these villages would be huge, the government must also pool in resources and garner funds from citizens and social and financial institutions. A part of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development fund can also be allocated for this project.
A separate department should be set up to handle this and the transformation of villages must be done in ‘mission mode’ like the Swachh Bharat and Make in India programmes. The government must hire an independent monitoring agency to oversee the implementation of the smart village projects and also conduct a social audit.
Traditionally, the Indian economy has been agrarian. More than 40% of the rural youth/adults are employed in agricultural activities. Unfortunately, irrigation has always been a constraint. Therefore, the transformation to smart villages must also include irrigational facilities.
Academic institutions have also an important role in developing smart villages. As a part of their curriculum, management students could be asked to camp for two months in villages to transform the outlook of people living in villages and also mentor the youth. An improved mindset will help the rural youth to make good use of opportunities available outside and be a part of the ‘mainstream’.
UD Choubey is director general, SCOPE
The views expressed by the author are personal