According to the latest Census, 66.46% of the country’s population reside in around 6.4 lakh villages in India. According to many economists, rural infrastructure is vital for the country's economic growth. Typically, rural infrastructure encompasses roads, major dams and canal works for irrigation and drainage, housing, water supply, electrification, and telecommunication connectivity.
Rural road connectivity is essential to development and poverty reduction. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) was launched in 2000 to provide all-weather road access to eligible unconnected habitations. It has covered over 97% of such habitations. Total length of roads constructed under PMGSY was 47,447 km in 2017-18. With the changing economic scenario, it is important to upgrade roads connecting villages to rural markets. The government has envisaged to upgrade 1,25, 000 kms of road length over the next five years, with an estimated cost of Rs. 80,250 crore.
Rural electrification is another key feature of rural infrastructure. It caters to the requirements of agriculture and other activities including irrigation, small and medium industries, khadi and village industries, cold storage chains, healthcare and education. The Indian government has been trying to push various reforms in the power sector in order to provide electricity to people at affordable prices. The Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana has provided electricity connections to more than 2 crore 47 lakh homes. Household access to clean cooking gas has seen an unprecedented expansion under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana that aims to provide free cooking gas connections to 80 million poor families.
Living conditions of people in rural areas has scope for improvement and a considerable portion of the rural population lives in kucha houses, which are highly vulnerable to rainfall, wind blow, fire and other environmental hazards. Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Gramin (PMAY-G) aims to achieve the objective of “Housing for All” by 2022. Under this scheme, a total of 1.54 crore rural homes have been completed in the last five years. In the second phase of PMAY-G, during 2019-20 to 2021-22, 1.95 crore houses are proposed to be provided.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, initiated in 2014, has achieved considerable success. According to the data by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, 9.9 crore toilets have been constructed and more than 5.6 lakh villages have become Open Defecation Free (ODF). Due to limited health infrastructure and accessibility, doctors and skilled health workers cannot reach remote rural areas. Of the total 25,650 primary health centres (PHCs) in the country, 15,700 (61.2%) function with one doctor each. As many as 1,974 (7.69%) PHCs do not even have a single doctor.
The eighth All India School Education Survey (AISE) report shows that there are 6.75 lakh primary schools functioning in rural areas. On an average, every village in India has a primary school and that is a noteworthy achievement. However, many of these schools lack basic educational infrastructure and adequate availability of teachers. This aspect needs urgent governmental intervention. Achhey Lal Yadav, Pradhan of Kanaipur Gram Panchayat, informed BE about the benefits provided by the State government to the underprivileged people in rural areas. "The WB government through Sabooj Sathi program provide bicycles to students of Class VIII, Rs. 2000 for funeral procession to the weaker section of the society. Through various programs we want to uplift the rural people to ensure development."
An assured source of clean drinking water in rural areas can largely benefit rural health. The Har Ghar Jal (piped water supply scheme) aims to provide clean piped drinking water to all rural households in India by 2024 under the Jal Jeevan Mission. The success this scheme will auger well for rural health indicators in India. Telecom connectivity constitutes an important part of the effort to upgrade rural infrastructure. In rural areas, tele-density was 56.87% at the end of August 2017. The government is committed to extending the reach of mobile networks to around 50,000 remote, rural villages with support from Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF). In addition, investments are being made to lay optical-fibre cables for high-speed broadband connectivity in rural areas.
The MGNREGA was initiated with the objective of enhancing livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year. It is reported that in the current fiscal, 11.9 crore workers are active under this scheme. A lack of adequate financial allocation, pending liabilities and low wages has dogged the programme over the past eight years. MGNREGA wages in many states are about 40% lower than the Ministry of Labour’s national minimum wage. However, it has been largely successful in providing employment in rural areas. Additionally, the projects undertaken under this scheme in various states has led to creation of rural infrastructure.
Though there has been improvement in the penetration of the rural banking system with more than 32 rural banks operating under the aegis of NABARD, there's need to increase the availability of low interest credit to rural self-help groups and agriculturists.