NITI Aayog has come out with an updated Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for India. It captures the progress of the country in three equally weighted dimensions — health, education and standard of living. The Progress Review 2023 of the public policy think tank reveals a steep decline in the proportion of population in multidimensional poverty, from 24.85 per cent to 14.96 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-21. This means that about 135.5 million persons have exited poverty between 2015-16 and 2019-21.

At the same time, the Intensity of Poverty (extreme poverty in common parlance) has also reduced from 47.14 per cent to 44.39 per cent. This is welcome news and may be attributed to various targeted development initiatives taken by Union and State Governments along with other stakeholders.

In rural areas, the number of ‘pucca’ or semi-pucca houses has increased manifold. Almost everyone has a cellphone, mostly smart ones. Motorbike, and not the bicycle, is the most common means of transport. Village shops are well stocked with consumer goods of various brands. Girls are going to schools, and no marriage happens without DJ systems and videography. These scenes are from aspirational villages of Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Unmistakably, there is a change in the lives of the people caused by a gradual improvement in the rural economy.

These changes are welcome and corroborate the facts pointed out in the Review, that the incidence of poverty fell from 32.59 per cent to 19.28 per cent in rural areas between 2015-16 and 2019-21. However, along with these tell-tale signs of the growth story, there are certain concerns which need deliberations.

Locked houses

Firstly, the migration from rural areas to urban/semi-urban areas. A walk around villages shows that a larger number of houses are locked. There is an acute shortage of labour and at times farming, especially vegetable cultivation, takes a hit because of that. Farmers seem to be losing interest in agriculture and more and more land is coming under ‘lease’ arrangement, which often results in lesser investment and hence, lesser productivity. Secondly, addiction to tobacco/gutka/liquor is on rise. Unfortunately, there are hardly any villages where liquor is not available, legally or illegally. This is having an adverse impact on people’s ability to work.

Thirdly, is the addiction to the ‘phone’. People of all ages are spending a huge part of their day on various social media apps. It is taking a serious toll on physical and mental health of the rural populace, damaging the social fabric in villages and resulting in crimes against women and Scheduled Castes. This is also leading to various misinformation campaigns and spreading of ‘afwaah’ at times.

Another major issue is cleanliness and hygiene. The Swacch Bharat Mission has resulted in the building of toilets in homes, but filth and squalor in common areas of villages continue to be an issue. Disposal of waste is still at a nascent stage in villages.

More employment opportunities near villages, curbing the availability of tobacco products and liquor, awareness campaigns on the ill-effects of spending too much time on the Internet, and launching of Swachh Abhiyan 2.0 with focus on waste management at the village level could be the way forward.

NITI Aayog is ‘the agency’ which has the wherewithal to draw up a blue print with active stakeholder consultation to address these concerns. It is time to move forward on the social front also and work on personal lifestyle aspects of the people to make economic upliftment more wholesome and meaningful.

The writer is a former GM, NABARD. Views are personal