A clear comprehension of rural development processes is palpably missing.

The following issues are not understood: Why are some rural areas more developed and others anchored in underdevelopment? Which are the critical factors to alter the condition of under-development? Why do sectoral policies have diverse effects in different rural territories? Does population play a role in the level of socio-economic development?

Available data clearly show residents of large villages are socio-economically better developed than those of smaller villages, and have higher utilisation of maternal and child health services.

However, inter-State variation in the provision of basic facilities to villages is larger than the intra-State variations by village size.

Average village size

The saying ‘India lives in its villages’ is relevant even today. Census 2011 reported that there are as many 6,40,867 villages in India out of which 597,483 are inhabited villages. Among them 82,149 villages have a population of less than 200. Nearly half the rural population is residing in 115,029 villages with population more than 2,000 but less than 10,000.

Very few people (0.98 per cent) are living in villages with ‘Less than 200’ people. The highest percentage of 34.63 is noted in the population range of 2,000-4,999.

Among States in the range ‘Less than 200’, the highest percentage is noted in Arunachal Pradesh (29.41) followed by Himachal Pradesh (13.16) and Meghalaya (12.82). But major portion of rural population is residing in the villages falling under the size groups of 1,000-1,999 and 2,000-4,999.

In India only 8.68 per cent of populations are living in villages having population more than 10,000 and above. Kerala shows the highest percentage of 92.21 of population living in villages of this range.

Over the years, the larger villages have rapidly grown in number, and there has been a decline in the number of small villages in all the States. The intra-rural movement of population by village size also indicates an increase in the population of the large villages.

The provision of basic facilities like how well a village is connected with other areas, availability of safe drinking water, presence of schools and health centres, among others, are important for the development of rural areas.

Naturally, the larger the size of a village, the more cost-effective it will be to provide it with services. Hence, the changes in the distribution of population by village size may be thought of as beneficial to rural development.

Variations in States

Abhishek Singh and others (2008), in their research study ‘Village Size In India’ published in Asian Population Studies , have found that larger villages have better access to basic facilities than the small villages, which can be explained to a great extent by higher demand for services in large villages which, also according to CPT, must be sufficient to cover the average cost of production.

This study has also pointed towards a strong intra-State variation in the provision of the basic facilities by size of village. Smaller villages in a state are less likely to be connected by all-weather roads and to have other facilities like schools and health centres.

Population density has been found to be an important variable in explaining the availability of facilities in a community, industrial diversity of work force, proportion employed in primary industry, unemployment rate and masculinity ratio.

Central rural areas are found to have higher fertility than the remote rural areas. Studies mostly carried out in developed countries have also found a positive correlation between population density and population size of community.

Therefore, the population size of a community can be satisfactorily taken as a proxy for population density in explaining the availability of basic services and demographic behaviour.

The population size of a community is positively correlated with the availability of basic facilities and negatively correlates with the proportion employed in the primary sector. The population size is a significant determinant of health services provision.

Smaller villages in a state are less likely to be connected by all-weather roads and to have other facilities like schools and health centres. In the process of rural infrastructure development, the connectivity of a village, through all-weather roads, seems crucial. If a village is connected by road, it increases mobility among its populace which in turn can facilitate a variety of other activities to promote employment. In addition, better accessibility will have a beneficial impact on the education and health of its residents.

Distance from city

Poverty rates are associated with greater rural distances from successively larger metropolitan areas. As distance from the nearest town increases, poverty for those villages also increases as compared to villages which lie in closer proximity to a town. Distance can affect poverty through influencing both rural labour demand and supply.

More remote rural communities have more inelastic labour supply, which causes them to have higher poverty when labour demand is weaker, but allows them to capture more poverty-reducing benefits if they were to have stronger local job growth.

Further, distance and travel time to roads are not highly correlated with welfare, while distance and travel time to urban centres are highly correlated with wealth indices: welfare decreases rapidly as access to urban centres gets worse.

Rural development of a State can be more contingent on how well it formulates the policies and implements the programmes. However, the process of development need not overlook the small villages. It may be better, in terms of economies of scale, to provide the facilities to large villages, but the government, as a custodian of society, also needs to have an impartial view towards the well-being of its citizens.

Proper attention to the development of small villages will go a long way in narrowing the existing inequalities in rural areas.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, Hyderabad

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