According to the 2001 census, 72.2% of the Indian population resides in the rural areas constituting about 638,000 villages. The CIA database says that at least 22% of the entire Indian population is living under poverty line. Though the social scientists and the businesses interpret the entire rural population as a BPL (Below Poverty Line) population and try to target them as their potential customers for low cost products, these statistics refute the argument. For all practical purposes, it is safe to assume that the rural economy is an agrarian economy. And since rural population constitutes 72% of our population, it becomes imperative for the government to ensure the development of the rural sector for the overall growth of India.
In the Union Budget 2009, the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee laid immense emphasis on this issue and revealed the plans to build infrastructure across length and breadth of the country. Various schemes like NREGA, JNNRUM and Rashtriya Vidyutikaran Yojna are ambitious enough to ensure that the government is willing to promote infrastructure development in the rural India, fondly known as Bharat. This is something known as inclusive growth where the growth is targeted not only at the urban India or the business world, but also at the other members of the Indian population.
But more important than the role of the government, is the role of private organizations in the process. India has grown to be the IT hub for the world which has opened new ventures for its citizens. But there was a minimal involvement of the government in the growth and development of IT sector or what I prefer to call as Bangalorization. A similar revolution is required once again in India to ensure the development of the rural community.
All said and done, the only way the private sector or the profit-sector can be attracted to this world is by showing them the market size and the market potential. Many organizations have already realized it and have started expanding their horizons to the rural markets through various innovative routes.
Microsoft conducted a research in the villages to know why acceptability of computers was low in rural areas even when government had provided computers in every school for the students to access. It came to be understood that only one student, usually a boy from upper class, used the mouse and nobody else was allowed to touch that. So, Microsoft came up with the solution in the form of multiple mouses connected to the same screen giving equal access to each student. This new research is being commercialized now. Similarly, Google tried to find out the reason for low internet penetration in India and particularly in villages and realized that people in villages did not understand English. So, it developed an Indic Transliteration Technology that helps the person use the Roman alphabet keyboard but the display comes in the local languages.
Many more similar examples like these and Unilever’s Shakti Amma are available to illustrate that the development of the rural India cannot be ignored if India wants to grow. And since we have ignored it for so long, we can start with the learnings from the mistakes that we made in the past. Instead of taking electricity to the villages from thermal power plants, we should plan sustainable energy sources like Solar or Wind Energy for them. Rather than taking products in polythene bags to villages, let’s encourage the use of jute bags from the beginning itself. Instead of building roads from petroleum byproducts, we should use the plastics and polythene to make roads that last longer and are better.
We must realize that the growth of the Indian rural sector can prove to be instrumental in bringing up the pace of growth of India Inc. The unexplored markets and the moral obligations are both a financial and social justification for the corporate to participate in this growth story.
The writer is the Singapore correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz. He is also a social enterprise enthusiast and analyst.
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