Home / Politics / Policy /  Rurban mission may be unveiled in Union budget

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is likely to announce a mission aimed at providing urban facilities in rural areas in the Union budget in July, a promise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the ruling coalition, made in its election manifesto.

The mission is aimed at providing basic infrastructure facilities to rural areas, such as roads, drinking water, electricity and sanitation, and could help to stem migration from the countryside to cities. It is also likely to focus particularly on census towns and small cities, according to government officials familiar with the development.

A village is classified as a census town if it has at least 5,000 inhabitants, a density of 400 people per sq. km, and at least three-quarters of its male working population engaged in non-farm work. There are 3,894 such towns in India, according to Census 2011 estimates.

Finance secretary Arvind Mayaram held a meeting on 17 June to discuss the contours of the mission, which was attended by representatives of Union government departments such as rural and urban development, drinking water and sanitation and state government representatives of many states, and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.

“The government is serious about rolling out this mission," said a government official who attended the meeting. “It will be on the lines of the rurban model successfully implemented by Gujarat." The official declined to be named.

The BJP’s poll manifesto had pitched the concept of “rurban" and promised a programme for rural rejuvenation. Highlighting the fact that two-thirds of India’s population lives in villages and lacks basic amenities, the manifesto had promised a drastic improvement in village infrastructure including “roads, potable water, education, health, supply chain, electricity, broadband, job creation, security in rural areas and linkage to markets".

President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech in Parliament on 9 June had echoed this promise of bridging the rural-urban divide.

According to the 2011 census, 69% of India’s population, or around 833 million people, lived in rural areas, against 31%, or 377.1 million people, in urban areas.

However, there are sharp inequalities in access to basic amenities between rural areas and large cities, census data shows, a trend that could explain the large-scale migration to urban areas.

While 93% of urban households had electricity for lighting, only 55% of rural households had access to electricity, Census 2011 data shows. In terms of availability of water within the home, 71% of urban households had access, compared with only 35% of rural households.

The sanitation divide was even starker. While 81% of urban households had latrines, only 31% of rural households had similar access. Around 63% of rural households had no drainage compared with 18% of urban households.

The mission could solve the issues of unplanned growth of peri-urban areas and census towns, and bridge disparities in accessing facilities across various settlements, said Debolina Kundu, an associate professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs.

“Data shows that poverty levels are higher in small towns and rural areas. Once the provision of basic amenities is ensured, the quality of life, especially health conditions, would improve significantly. This would have a positive impact on the morbidity and mortality indicators as well," she said. “Provision of 24x7 electricity supply would encourage growth of small enterprises in the hinterland of large cities."

If the scheme could be dovetailed with employment generation and skill development programmes, it would help solve the unemployment problems as well, she said.

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