Book Reviews

A valuable volume on how villages can be revived

Sudip Talukdar | Updated on October 22, 2021

Smart Villages: Bridging the Global Urban Rural Divide is a useful reference and implementation guide on rural development

About the Book

Smart Villages: Bridging the Global Urban-Rural Divide

Edited by VI Lakshmanan, Arun Chockalingam, V Kumar Murty, S Kalyanasundaram

Springer Nature Switzerland

495 pages

Check the book out on Amazon

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Smart Cities, which require mega infrastructure and huge investments, have been dominating public discourse for a while, even as villages that are home to half the world’s population largely remain behind the pale of consideration.

Villages, dependent overwhelmingly on agriculture in India, could do with a healthy dose of human resource development, healthcare, economic empowerment and cottage industries. India may be on the threshold of radical changes, but if it does not benefit the vast rural segment, comprising two thirds of the country’s total population, then the process will be counterproductive and flawed.

Accordingly, experts have proposed simple technologies to lift villages out of the quagmire of poverty, backwardness, illiteracy and poor health. Road network and mobile telephony have exacerbated the situation as they have facilitated the mass migration of able bodied men towards cities seeking jobs. But the women in rural areas, numbering roughly 350 million, are left behind to fend for themselves and their families.

Consequently, “a village’s cultural and indigenous skills-based ecosystem also takes a severe beating, in addition to reduction in economic activity and loss of critical mass needed to provide essential services,” note V. I. Lakshmanan, Jacques NdoutouMve, and S. Kalyanasundaram, in a chapter titled ‘Preserving Indigenous Traditions and Values’ in the book

Smart Villages: Bridging the Global Urban–Rural Divide.

However, the effects of migration can be mitigated by the application of simple indigenous knowhow to generate sustainable income and empower these women, they point out.

The 511- page book, published by Springer, Switzerland is a compendium of scores of scholarly, well researched articles on the subject of how villages can be revived. The book provides a bird’s eye view of the challenges inherent in the development of rural communes, and also shows how existing knowhow can be applied to develop smart villages. The book is meant for organizations and individuals active in rural planning and policy development, including NGOs, healthcare professionals, students and rural communities.

V. I. Lakshmanan, and S. Kalyanasundaram, who have contributed a chapter ‘Smart Village – Concept and Intended Benefits,’ state: “Whether it is green-field creation of a small community with a specific purpose, such as Gandhi’s Tolstoy Farm, or the more recent transformation of the village of Ralegaon Siddhi, in Maharashtra, India, by Anna Hazare, these efforts have inspired many to take up the cause of village empowerment and transformation.”

While conceptualizing the book, the editors sought a diverse group of experts who, based on their own experiences and research, have presented other dimensions of what would make a village “smart,” and by extension, enhance the quality of life of rural communities everywhere. The first Smart Villages Conference was held in March 2017 at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, University of Toronto, co-chaired by Dr. Kumar Murty and Dr. Lakshmanan.

From a modest beginning with four talks and 20 participants from Canada, the US and India, it led to a Connaught Global Challenge Award and facilitated two more smart villages conferences: one in April 2018 with 18 presentations and 80 international participants; and the other in June 2019, with 36 talks and 100 participants, from Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The conferences helped social scientists share their experiences, challenges, results and recommendations. These symposiums helped expand the scope of smart villages towards holistic development, including the preservation of cultural traditions and addressing the needs of the underprivileged.

Deliberations during the conferences convinced the co-editors of the book that the next step in enhancing global awareness, leadership and expertise in the development of smart villages would be a reference book that addresses the multiple dimensions of the subject, enlivened by actual descriptions of case studies globally. This book Smart Villages is an outcome of those confabulations.

The different chapters of the book highlight various aspects of the subject. Chapter 5 stresses the importance of smart villages being integral to a sustainable ecosystem. While the preceding chapter addresses the development of material aspects of smart villages, the editors are clear that the preservation of indigenous traditions should not be overlooked. The next chapter, with examples drawn from Canada, Africa and India, show how indigenous traditions, not smothered by modern technology, not only preserve the existing quality of life but also provide branding opportunities, global reach and economic advantage.

The book is divided into three sections. While the first section establishes the concept and need for smart villages, the second

section, “Building the Framework,” enunciates the many aspects associated with development of smart villages; governance for instance. The political authority conceives, facilitates and implements and finances development projects. They set and enforce rules and regulations. They create schemes with brand identity. Therefore, anyone considering such projects must understand the role of government, it impact on the project and how they can leverage official schemes and facilities to benefit the project.

The third section of the book is devoted to case studies showcasing implementation of one or more of smart village elements. For instance, in one of the chapters, Chocko Valliappa and Nirmalesh K. Sampath Kumar of the Sona Group showcase how technologies can be meaningfully adapted to provide employment to rural women. In an intervention near Salem, the group provided solar powered dryers to rural women to help them dehydrate unsold vegetables like tomatoes, lemon rinds, spinach, bananas, drumsticks etc, within hours and turn them into extracts and powders that could be sold. Similarly other interventions like introducing pulse plating technology in the silver anklet industry in Salem led to more women being able to join the workforce as this was easier for women to handle.

Well researched and full of practical insights and demonstrated successes, the book is a valuable toolkit on how villages can be empowered.

(Sudip Talukdar has written quite extensively on strategic, military and social matters, besides authoring two books.)

Published on October 22, 2021

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