Union Budget 2022-23: The Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for 2022-23 pushes the idea of self-reliance at a village level in many ways that could be transformative
Aatmanirbhar Bharat has been the slogan of the Narendra Modi government for some time now as it has worked to build self-reliance and resilience in a pandemic-afflicted world.
The Budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for 2022-23 pushes the idea of self-reliance at a village level in many ways that could be transformative.
For instance, consider the Vibrant Villages programme which focuses on transforming India’s border villages — a cornerstone for securing its sovereignty especially with continued geostrategic friction with its neighbours, some of whose brunt is borne by border villages.
The Budget says, “Border villages with a sparse population, limited connectivity and infrastructure often get left out from the development gains. Such villages on the northern border will be covered under the new Vibrant Villages Programme. The activities will include the construction of village infrastructure, housing, tourist centres, road connectivity, provisioning of decentralized renewable energy, direct to home access for Doordarshan and educational channels, and support for livelihood generation. Additional funding for these activities will be provided. Existing schemes will be converged. We will define their outcomes and monitor them on a constant basis.”
By developing village infrastructure, bettering opportunities of livelihood, and ensuring that the state-run Doordarshan reaches the areas, India is deepening its efforts to sanitise and secure its sovereignty needs as the world continues to go through turbulence, both in terms of health and security.
The need to boost this kind of infrastructure and connectivity has been mentioned as a priority since 1950 (at that time by India’s first Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel), and in recent years, there has been a flurry of activity in this direction. In fact, some of the belligerence in recent times from some of India’s neighbours is a result of their annoyance at the country’s renewed efforts at border village rejuvenation.
As I have often mentioned in this column, it is not widely understood within, or outside India, that as a postcolonial nation, which only won Independence from British rule in 1947, and remains surrounded by hostile neighbours with whom it has fought wars, India’s sovereignty challenges are serious and need constant attention.
Building deeper and more resilient roots for sovereignty at its peripheries remains, thus, a key concern for India and the Vibrant Villages Programme is likely to strengthen this cause.
This, of course, is not all. The Budget has also mentioned that “to enable affordable broadband and mobile service proliferation in rural and remote areas, five per cent of annual collections under the Universal Service Obligation Fund will be allocated. This will promote R&D (research and development) and the commercialisation of technologies and solutions. Our vision is that all villages and their residents should have the same access to e-services, communication facilities, and digital resources as urban areas and their residents. The contracts for laying optical fibre in all villages, including remote areas, will be awarded under the Bharatnet project through PPP (public-private partnership) in 2022-23. Completion is expected in 2025. Measures will be taken to enable better and more efficient use of the optical fibre”.
Rural India is increasingly a hub of innovation and a source for start-ups and other small and medium-sized businesses directly selling their unique products to customers, often bypassing aggregator platforms, and using social media and delivery specialists to directly sell to customers.
Such a thriving ecosystem can only grow exponentially if it gets adequate infrastructure support, therefore the push to connect villages by optical fibre is a programme that must now be completed post-haste.
There are other elements that will support rural growth and development — for instance, the ‘one station, one product’ scheme which talks about using railway stations as places which could specialise on highlighting local products. This is an extension of the vision of one district, one product that has been rolled out across the country. Using railway stations have multiple advantages — a large audience footfall, existing basic infrastructure including that of access, and ability to move goods using ready transportation (the trains themselves).
All of this is a step closer to the vision of self-reliant, ‘aatmanirbhar villages’, which by the way is straight from Mahatma Gandhi who first spoke about this.
The writer is a multiple award-winning historian and author. The views expressed are personal.