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How and Why Should We Bridge The Gap Between Rural And Urban India

In many ways, India has changed and progressed in the last 75 years. India despite its rapid growth leading to visible signs like growing numbers of dollar billionaires – is paradoxically the home to the largest concentration of global poor – over 40% of the world’s $1 poor. The multidimensional poverty index developed by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) finds 8 Indian states being poorer than the 26 poorest African nations.
Disaggregated state-wise data show a high concentration of poverty and hunger in the central and eastern states, which have a relatively higher percentage of Tribal and Dalit communities, a higher proportion of the rural population, the poverty or opportunity deficiency map of India carries the inter-generational underpinnings of social and economic exclusion and or isolation accentuated with the disproportionate focus of state and market on better-endowed regions and politically more important areas e.g. urban population. Patriarchal and feudal social normative practices further accentuate, particularly the gender inequalities at intra-household as also in social spaces; acting in unison this has created a situation where the problem not only affects this generation but is transmitted inter-generationally.
On several parameters, Rural India shows a development deficit and lag behind its urban counterpart on most parameter. A few examples, 27% of students in rural India complete upper secondary schooling, compared to 48 % compared to urban India, estimated Infant Mortality Rate (38.4 vs 26.6 per 1,000 live births), Under-five mortality Rate (45.7 vs 31.5 per 1,000 live births), Per Capita State Domestic Product, Children under 5 years who are stunted (37.3% vs 30.1%), Children under 5 years who are underweight (33.8% vs 27.3%), Household availing banking services (77.4% vs 80.9% among women), Population below the poverty line, etc. These gaps translate into youth from these communities being unable to connect with the modern economy.
In such a situation, transforming rural India is crucial for new India. The pandemic and the future of urban particularly anthropogenic footprint have shown that deepening grassroots democracy, and action by local communities and local leadership are better equipped to deal with emerging crises, particularly in handling health, education, and economic sectors. Key to resilience is empowering local neighborhood community response systems, especially providing space for citizen action, and local governance structures with frontline public servants and duty bearers playing leadership roles.
Local preparedness supporting better healthcare, access entitlements, and economic development, has emerged as key institutional pillars of the roadmap for recovery and preparedness. This effort in our understanding, apart from near term-results, can strengthen systemic pathways of resilience on both health and economic dimensions, addressing socio-economic shock with unique pathways of Community-PRI-LA compacts leading to deepened democratic processes and place-based economic opportunities.
The community action and policy imperative is to institute women-led locality-based convergent community-local government mechanisms ensuring socio-economic resilience. The component actions include:

1. Neighbourhood Community Resilience:

Leverage existing community institutional platforms both women’s-SHGs and panchayats to build a local community-led response, by developing robust institutional architecture and community process protocols. The immediate focus will be on ensuring vaccination, and practices at the local level which prevent the large spread of the disease and create closer coordination with the public healthcare system. This includes, as per the requirement, initiation of containment-zone protocol, isolation facilities and augment care facilities at CHC/Health and Wellness Centers leveraging the 15-Finance Commission award. While health response provides the context, the compact of Women-led Community Collectives-Panchayats-Frontline Government will deepen democratic processes and accountability and strengthen local self-governance, anchoring other intervention areas. Localized Convergent System is efforts driven under the local leadership of the Panchayats and women’s SHGs working with frontline duty bearers or service providers across the health, care, and food and local market development including livelihoods and enterprises.

2. Access to entitlements and welfare programs:

The government has declared new schemes and expanded outlays for many critical schemes such as welfare measures and economic stimulus for the poor including benefits in case of death. However, several surveys, reconfirm our ground information that the access has been patchy and the vulnerable and marginalized are getting left out. The heavy shift to tech-enabled mechanisms is not easy to handle in remote locations. Several people require human facilitation to access the benefits of the government’s Covid economic and welfare package including additional food grains (PMAY[1]), financial support (JDY, PMKSY[2]), wage-employment (PMGKRY[3]), specific benefits to returning migrants (BOCW[4]), social security schemes (NSAP[5]) and MGNREGS for farm level land & water development assets. Experience has shown entitlement hubs embedded in the SHG-CLFs have been very effective in supporting assess to schemes and programs at the local level – not only for the members by for non-members and returning migrant families.

3. Building place-based local economies:

Urban economy opportunities are driven by changing agricultural technology, industrial technology, and aspirations of changing one’s economic circumstances. Agricultural technology has decreased the need for agricultural workers. Improved transportation, tools, fertilizer, and genetically modified crops mean fewer farmworkers harvest more food. This decreased need for farm employment drives many workers outside the villages. Industrial technology has created many jobs unique to urban areas. Developing countries often have resource-based economies – agriculture, timber, mining, or other harvesting of natural resources. Digital technologies offer an opportunity to distribute manufacturing to rural areas, with non-farm growth a service-based economy emerges providing finished goods and services to residents and exporting to urban areas. Communities, as producers and consumers offer alternate economic development, approaches that deliver community priorities; it is driven by a community’s social, cultural, ecological, and economic needs and shaped by the local population those who live, work and run businesses and public services within the neighborhood ensuring robust growing future economic growth. With increased integration and pivoting of local-intermediate-national-global supply chains and market sheds, a systematic deliberate effort is required to create place-based economic growth putting youths and farmers at the core.
[1] Pradhan Mantri Anna Yojana,
[2] Cash support to Jan Dhan Yojana account holders, PM Krishi Samman Yojana
[3] PM Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan covers 14 wage employment across different departments including MGNREGS
[4] Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board
[5] National Social Assistance Program


Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.


Shyamal Santra has extensive experience of nurturing community leadership for public health while piloting and driving scalable solutions for transforming rural India. Having unique association with flagship national initiatives of India – Aspirational District Programme, National Health Mission (NHM) & XV-FC Health Sector Grant, he was in the core-team that architected the first ‘Mamta Vahan’; facilitated in transportation of more than 2 million pregnant women in past 10 years and co-created and lead the Jharkhand Integrated Development of Health & Nutrition (JIDHAN) Programme, a community centric emergency healthcare response to COVID Response.