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Can Villages Act As Smart Cities? - The Smart Villages & The Rurban Concept

We have been listening all about Smart Cities from quite a long time since the new government came into a flow. Smart City does not have a universal definition.

Smart cities mean different to different nations,cities, and people depending on the level of development, willingness to change and aspirations of the city residents. In India, the core mission of Smart Cities is to have decent infrastructure,decent quality life to citizens, clean and sustainable environment and smart solutions to various problems. India is working to create such a model which can be replicated to other aspiring cities.

If we turn few pages of history, once Mahatma Gandhi mentioned, "The best, quickest and most efficient way is to build up from the bottom." Every village has to be self-sufficient, republic. This requires brave, intelligent and corporate work, where "brave"can be referred to entrepreneurial and the risk-taking capacity of individuals and nation as the whole. "Corporate"refers to setting and meeting strategic goals and objectives. "Intelligent"in today's era can be linked to IT-enabled governance models in India - The automation.

In India, we have 69% population residing in rural that is more than 800 million people. We have more than 600 districts and more than 6 lac villages where half of the population is below 25 years of age. Today there is the need to design and build smart villages well connected to the cities, well connected to the rest of the world.

Where do we stand in terms of government initiatives?

The first expert meeting for the Smart Village was conducted on October 13th, 2015. One 5th November, A workshop on "Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission" was held, which was attended by secretaries and senior officials of various states.The concept of Rurban (Rural + Urban) project was launched focused on reducing migration of people from the village to cities. It was discussed that the gram panchayats which are growing at the faster pace will be developed under cluster approach. Each cluster will have multiple villages under it or a population of 50,000 - 60,000. The mission set is to develop 300 such clusters in next three years.

After state meetings, interministerial meetings, and state technical support discussions, On 21st February, 2016 Prime minister launched National Rurban Mission in Chattisgarh. iCap (Integrated Cluster Action Plan) has been asked to prepare to all the states. On 25th July, analysis has been done for two states Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh and 1st installments were sanctioned against Investments estimated. Later 8 new states were sanctioned first installments on 23rd August, 2016. Some interesting figures to mention : States like Mizoram had minimum investment estimations for rurban project i.e 50 crores and government sanctioned 4.5crore as the first installment. Maharashtra quoted the highest i.e 1027.51 crore and first sanctioned amount is 58.50 crore. Such low sanctions are both good and bad. Good in a sense we hope that state governments will work on "optimum utilization of resources"and do the favor to village clusters. The bad is, it is doubtful if the amounts are sufficient for even a layout of smart village clusters.

There are four core areas to work on for smart villages: 1. Basic amenities : 24 hours water supply, sanitation and drainage systems, solid and liquid waste management,street lights, intervillage connectivity, LPG gas, Public transport. 2. Economic amenities: Skill development initiatives, agri-services, and processing, biogas plants, irrigation facilities, cold storages, milk collection, and storage units. 3.Social amenities : Health, Education. 4. Digital amenities: Digital literacy, digital panchayats, broadband facility, smart classes, e-learning centers.

When things do not implement the way they seem, in terms of government initiatives, then who is at fault?

The best fitting reply is : "Ask not what the country has done for you, say what you have done for the country" - Subhash Chandra Bose

We always blame government, politicians, and others. Why not ourselves first? We ourself are the mirror of society. I have seen clean schools in villages, I have seen kids in uniforms and with books, but if teachers do not teach well then what is the fun of making so many policies when we as an individual are part of reasons which fails government initiatives too. We have suvidha centers but no serious person is on the job. We have centers to make driving license still we choose a mediator to do our job or sometimes we have to pay bribes even at the centers. We are the defaulters ourselves. I strongly believe there are not much but definitely many policies framed for the people but the intermediaries are not doing the job right which is leading to a big disaster. We are weak in "getting work done by people".

How we as individuals can bring change and move towards smart villages?

We should start with small "Action clubs" locally.The "Action clubs" can be volunteers from a village, city, school,college, university or any other institutes working on various causes. The swach bharat abhyan was a great initiative and is cost effective for many. Our action clubs can work on cleanliness drives. I would like to quote an example of "Amritsar sparkling club"- an initiative by Alpha one mall. This club is famous in the city for conducting cleanliness drives every month where the employees of Alpha one, the localities of the city participates together and clean a particular area of the city - A great initiative in fact and I have observed them doing this from past many years. Afroz a 33-year-old lawyer from Mumbai has taken world's biggest successful beach clean up the program. He has taken the target of cleanliness of 2.5km of Versova beach filled with 3lac kgs of garbage. He has been well supported by local people and now even United Nations for his initiative. Safeer Usman and Gopinath Anandan started Tetherbox technologies and invented a device which can check the pollutant content in water bodies especially ponds, rivers, lakes and give SMS alerts to the users. We need such initiatives on our own as entrepreneurs rather than being dependent on government to do big for us. Let's start small.

In our villages, our "Action Clubs" should focus on Educating people. Evening school initiatives can be taken. As we in our Village Tangra runs an evening school where 80 kids come daily to study. Weekend schools can be opened. Cafe Toto is a french restaurant in Kolkata, it hires under privilege between 18-24 of age. Teach them English, computer, and all necessary skills, groom them, train them for long and hire them. Mahesh Savani a Gujarati businessman is educating 470 girls in his village Bhavnager. Akshat Shrivastva, launched Millionlights a platform to learn different courses online and through TV channel by paying the nominal monthly subscription.

We as "Action clubs" can initiate skill development centers. We do not need special buildings, training can be conducted and people can do work from their home. Zehra Picturewala runs a crochet company ZnSkills, teaching rural women the art of crochet and making different things out of thread and wool and then selling the products online. Aham Bhumika - An NGO does similar work, they train people in the art of making things by hand especially paper quilling, jute bags, greeting cards, blankets, pottery and then they sell it online.If I take an example of my own company Simbacart, we source handmade ethnic shoe from various shoemaking families in Punjab, we have hired girls to make handmade greeting cards, handmade friendship bands, cushions, pillows and quilts and we are selling all offline and online. We have been successful in increasing income of the rural people who have some art in their hands, we also train who has an urge to learn.

"Action clubs" can do regular awareness campaigns on health issues,usage of power saving equipment, the irrelevance of social evils and beliefs. Fundraising activities can also be done and corporates or individuals can be convinced to adopt villages starting from smaller ones.

Together we can! However, it will take few decades for smart cities but it may take a century for India to be a nation of Smart Villages like Smart cities. India needs to be the land of innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs to bring change. We need, to be honest, and should not move away from our moral values. - This is Serious!!

My honest writings

Mandeep Kaur Sidhu



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