Agriculture is the major source of livelihood in the rural sector. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the real progress of India did not mean simply the growth and expansion of industrial urban centres but mainly the development of the villages. This idea of village development being at the centre of the overall development of the nation is relevant even today.
Why is this so? Why should we attach such significance to rural development when we see around us fast growing cities with large industries and modern information technology hubs? It is because more than two-third of India’s population depends on agriculture that is not productive enough to provide for them; one-third of rural India still lives in abject poverty. That is the reason why we have to see a developed rural India if our nation has to realise real progress.
What, then, does rural development imply?
Rural development is a comprehensive term. It essentially focuses on action for the development of areas that are lagging behind in the overall development of the village economy. Some of the areas which are challenging and need fresh initiatives for development in India include –
- Development of human resources including
- literacy, more specifically, female literacy, education and skill development
- health, addressing both sanitation and public health
- Land reforms
- Development of the productive resources of each locality
- Infrastructure development like electricity, irrigation, credit, marketing, transport facilities including construction of village roads and feeder roads to nearby highways, facilities for agriculture research and extension, and information dissemination
- Special measures for alleviation of poverty and bringing about significant improvement in the living conditions of the weaker sections of the population emphasising access to productive employment opportunities.
All this means that farming communities have to be provided with various means that help them increase the productivity of grains, cereals, vegetables and fruits. They also need to be given opportunities to diversify into various non-farm productive activities such as food processing. Giving them better and more affordable access to healthcare, sanitation facilities at workplaces and homes and education for all would also need to be given top priority for rapid rural development.
Although the share of agriculture sector’s contribution to GDP was on a decline, the population dependent on this sector did not show any significant change. Further, after the initiation of reforms, the growth rate of agriculture sector decelerated to 2.3 per cent per annum during the 1990s, which was lower than the earlier years.
Scholars identify decline in public investment since 1991 as the major reason for this. They also argue that inadequate infrastructure, lack of alternate employment opportunities in the industry or service sector, increasing casual employment etc. further impede rural development. The impact of this phenomenon can be seen from the growing distress witnessed among farmers across different parts of India.
Against this background, we should also critically look at some of the crucial aspects of rural India like credit and marketing systems, agricultural diversification and the role of organic farming in promoting sustainable development.
Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Economic Development