What can be done to create jobs in Rural India?
First, we must understand and accept that gainful employment for every adult in a rural setting in India is not possible. Even and especially in agriculture. This is because with every passing generation land holdings get smaller and smaller as land is divided amongst the sons in the family. Considering that over 65% of all Indian farmers are already small and marginal farmers with less than 1 Ha of land, the problem gets more acute. That over 70% of agriculture is rain-fed exacerbates the situation especially as climate is fast changing and rains are becoming unpredictable.
Second, there is a limited demand for ‘services’ in rural settings. Services that we take for granted in urban areas – security, house help, drivers, crèches etc have little scope in rural settings.
Third, there are severe restrictions on the number of people who can be involved in trade. Very often one or two retail shops and tea stalls is all that villages can handle profitably.
Fourth, self reliance of any community / district / State or nation in this globalized world is very very difficult. The smaller the unit, the lesser the chances. The need to trade and exchange goods and services will remain. What I am interpreting self reliance as is the ability to source what one needs.
What then can be done?
One of the solutions is to encourage and even promote urbanisation. Yes urbanisation. This does not mean we encourage people to move to large urban centres but that smaller urban centres are created all over. In any case this is the trend world over.
Romantics point to the idyll of rural life. Often these romantics don’t actually stay in rural areas. They say that the poor moving to urban centres end up in slums. True. In spite of knowing that, the poor migrate. The question to be asked is “Why would anyone willing choose to live in slums in pitiable conditions and face enormous risks if they had an option?” The answer is that the poor, when faced with despair, find the lure of urban areas irresistible. They know it is difficult but are forced to pin their hopes on migrating and improving their lives; in many cases they reason, that their lives could not get worse.
Urban areas offer improved chances of obtaining work, health facilities and eventually education for children. They improve access to media and hence information that can be useful to improving lives. They improve recreation options. Research has shown that migration can reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth.
Second is to invest in education
The nature of poverty is fast changing. It is no longer only economic but is increasingly related to skills or lack thereof. In order to be better able to reduce the skills poverty, India needs to invest in improving quality of education. India also needs to invest in vocational training so that small entrepreneurs can emerge. Aligned to this is access to easy credit and good infrastructure.
It is not going to be easy; poverty alleviation never is. Till we reach a point where most of the youth have gainful employment, we are going to continue to need social safety net programmes like the MNREGA. We have to make a start though and this the time.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. we are faced with the urgency of now.
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”