One of the major challenges facing us today is that the rural populace in India is not sharing in the growth that the urban populace has been enjoying in recent years. This brings to my mind a statement by an African delegate to the 1994 UN Cairo Conference on Population and Development in a roundtable on CNN, which put it aptly "If the rich don't share their riches with the poor, the poor will share their poverty with the rich". If the gulf between urban and rural India continues to widen, there will have to be some kind of equilibration over the long term with the rural populace sharing their poverty with their urban brethren. It will only be a matter of when and not whether this will happen.
President Kalam has talked about ways of addressing this challenge. In his address to the nation on the occasion of Republic Day 2003, he put forward the concept of PURA - Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas - as a means to his vision of transformation to a "developed" India. To quote from his speech,
More than two thirds of our billion population live in the rural parts of India. The vision of transformation to a ‘developed’ India can only be realized if we launch a mega mission for empowering the rural people. My visits to the rural parts of India have confirmed that the problem of rural India depends on the extent of connectivity available there.
The connectivity that I refer to, would include four components. Physical connectivity by providing roads in rural areas, electronic connectivity by providing reliable communication network and knowledge connectivity by establishing more professional institutions and vocational training centers. Schools with best infrastructure and teachers who love teaching, primary health centres, silos for storage of products and markets for promoting cottage industries and business, employment opportunities for artisans are some of the elements of PURA. All this connectivity needs to be done in an integrated way so that economic connectivity will emerge leading to self actuating people and economy. Such Model of establishing a circular connectivity among the rural village complexes will accelerate rural development process by empowerment. I am sure that removal of poverty will call for Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA). The model envisaged is a habitat design that would improve the quality of life in rural places and make special suggestions to remove urban congestion also. Instead of village population coming to urban area, the reverse phenomenon has to take place.
The PURA has to be a business proposition economically viable and managed by entrepreneurs and local people and small scale industrialists, as it involves education, health, power generation, transport and management. Government’s support should be in the form of empowering such management agencies, providing initial economic support and finding the right type of management structure and leaders to manage and maintain.
President Kalam has articulated it very succintly and thrown open the challenge. The Rural Infrastructure Services Commons (RISC) concept proposed by Atanu Dey (and to be soon put into action by Atanu Dey and Rajesh Jain) will be an interesting experiment towards putting PURA into practice.
India's following a strategy which is what I call the 'enclave strategy'. The strategy is that '200 million of us will get educated and march into the First World, and 800 million of us will remain illiterate and stay in the Third World, and we'll all live in the same country.' I don't think it'll work. The 800 million will stop the 200 million sooner or later. India's got 500 million people they don't plan to educate: 350 million untouchables and 150 million Muslims. I've never heard an important government official in India say: 'We plan to educate everybody.' 'Cos they don't.'
I don't know what gave Thurow the idea that India doesn't plan to educate 350 million untouchables and 150 million muslims. Not hearing anyone say we plan to educate everyone can't be interpreted to mean that we consciously don't plan to educate everyone, especially untouchables or muslims. The clubbing of muslims with untouchables is also revealing in itself. But let's leave that aside and take the basic point, which is sound, about the unsustainability of 200 million 'haves' living with 800 million 'have-nots' in one country in harmony.