P V Indiresan

Nurturing a Rurban habitat

Updated on: Jan 11, 2013
image caption

Under the Rurbanisation model, medium industries and businesses could shift to villages and bring with them middle-class professionals to live in the new habitat. A similar initiative is being taken in Gujarat.

Happy New Year! May all your wishes come true!

Let me start the New Year with some happy news in an environment of gloom about women being raped, barbaric arrogance of Pakistan, Naxalite brutality, and so on. I want to talk about a person whom I have never met, but on excellent authority I understand, is doing unusual work. He is Promod Kumar, Chairman of the Punjab Governance Reform Commission.

We are all aware how insensitive the police are. Kumar has implemented what many have desired for quite some time. In Punjab, you do not have to go to a police station to register a complaint; you can do it online. What is more, the police have been given a timetable for their reaction and action.

Further, Kumar has set up nice air-conditioned offices where people can go if they want to make enquiries or give complaints.

The official-in-charge is given a suit and a tie to wear. Kumar hopes that the ambience will cool tempers and give officials a sense of pride. You would agree that it is a move in the right direction.

Clubbing schools

His other move is closer to my experience. We know how poorly village schools operate with teachers often absconding from work. Kumar decided to close down such non-functional schools. Punjab teachers have a strong labour union.

He did not want to antagonise them and took them along in his scheme. For a start, he divided Punjab schools into four categories — A, B, C and D (good, usable, poor and very poor). He has decided to close down, gradually, all schools of the C and D category.

I had made a similar suggestion to a powerful Chief Minister: Instead of an unviable single-teacher school in every village, why not have a 10 or 12-teacher large school so that no child would have to go no farther than the next village? He was sceptical about villagers accepting this suggestion.

Kumar solved that problem easily by allowing teachers in the C or D category school to move to an A or B school. Teachers like to do so and the better schools, which are short of teachers, also welcome the move. The students who are left adrift can be allowed to travel by bus, free of charge. They are happy to do so.

The clubbing of schools in this manner is an excellent idea. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and, possibly, Gujarat may copy the idea straight away.

Others which do not have motorable roads to every village can still emulate this model and improve it later on. Let us wish Kumar and anybody who accepts his scheme the best of luck.

Kumar has an interesting theory. He feels that the days of corruption are coming to an end as corruption does not deliver anymore. There was a time when by paying bribes one could get things done.

That is no longer true; people who take bribes are no longer able to get things done. He appears to be correct. It is hoped bribe-givers take note of this and stop giving bribes.

Idea of Rurbanisation

I was in Ahmedabad recently to participate in the celebration of Rurbanisation in Gujarat. For the Gujarat Government, Rurbanisation means providing better schools and hospitals in villages with a population in excess of 10,000. They have already chosen over 250 villages for the purpose. My idea of Rurbanisation is different.

I would like all villages to have affordable access to good schools, secondary-care hospitals, modern markets and the like. I would like medium-sized industries and businesses to shift to villages and bring with them middle-class professionals to live in the Rurban habitat. For that, I would like the Government to permit businesses to operate on land, leased for 99 years, with the lease amount indexed to inflation.

When businesses lease land, they can get an acre or so for an annual fee of a few lakhs of rupees, instead of having to pay crores to purchase the same. This will bring down costs. If Hong Kong could be built on a 99-year lease, I see no reason why our villages should not also be developed in the same manner. However, Gujarat officials are sceptical; they fear the Supreme Court will not allow it.

Social justice

My other suggestion that schools should charge what the market will bear was also not acceptable. Once again, the fear was that somebody or the other will raise a Public Interest Litigation and the Supreme Court will side with the litigant. I am not so sure.

Suppose the State government were to ask why a peon should pay the same fee as the Justice of the Supreme Court, what reply can they give?

World famous institutions like Harvard and Stanford admit the very rich and make them pay heavily. They also admit intelligent, but indigenous, students by offering them not merely free education but even scholarships. That is how they combine social justice with greatness.

Narayana Murthy’s children studied in Harvard, but no IIT could admit them. I have no doubt he would have contributed crores of rupees if asked. So would all rich families. But our socialism does not permit any institution in India to do so. That is a pity because we are squandering difficult to get foreign exchange in educating rich children abroad and, in the process, starving our institutions.

Let us hope the New Year brings wisdom to our justices and ministers too.

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Responses to indiresan@gmail.com and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in )

This is 346th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on December 29.

Published on March 12, 2018

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