Infrastructure plays a critical role in the economic development of any country. Presently 65% of India’s population resides in its rural areas. Therefore, rural infrastructure needs to be developed to provide basic amenities such as civic services and housing to the rural population. This will help boost their quality of life. Growth of rural infrastructure is important from the perspective of agriculture, agro-based industries, poverty alleviation and better access to markets and job opportunities in rural regions. 

Keeping all the above factors in mind, the government of India (GoI) has initiated critical schemes for the upliftment of rural infrastructure. Such as:

• Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY - Gramin):  Providing Housing for All by 2022. PMAY-G aims to provide pucca (permanent) houses and other basic civic amenities such as piped drinking water, power supply and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) connection in convergence.

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY): Improving rural connectivity, by providing all-weather roads to connect eligible habitations in rural areas. As on December 31, 2019, road length worth Rs. 2.9 lakh crore had been sanctioned and expenditure of Rs. 2.17 lakh crore incurred.

• Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM): Providing Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) to every rural household i.e., Har Ghar Nal Se Jal by 2024

There have been several factors that have posed a challenge to development in the past:  

• Land availability: There is a continuous tussle for land for agriculture, agro-based industries, and housing in the rural areas, which is a severe constraint to meet the housing demands of the rural population. This implies that the vision of ‘Housing for All’ will require acquisition/ supply of large land parcels on a regular basis. 

• Inadequate financing: Inadequate access to formal sources of finance for the rural population has been an issue in the rural housing sector. Lack of proper documentation/ steady source of income for rural population has been a hindrance in securing formal finance.

• Legal constraints: There is a barrier for major players in real estate in tapping the vast land potential in rural areas reinforced by poor enforcement of laws against encroachment of public lands. There is an absence of clear titles to private lands causing an artificial scarcity of land in rural areas. Another major issue is the absence of large-scale digitisation of land records and easy access to such records for checking land-holding titles.

• Poor condition of rural road network:  India has one of the largest and densest rural road networks around the world. However, 2.7 million kilometres of rural road network is in poor condition. At present, most of the rural roads are not all-weather roads and lack connectivity to remote areas. 

The provision of certain civil services such as water supply and sanitation has also been restricted due to several constraints: 

• Limited accountability and lack of institutional capacity: The Gram Panchayats (GPs) lack institutional strength and capacity and are not properly supported by the state governments in developing, undertaking, and implementing infrastructure projects at the rural level. 

 Lack of funds for improving rural infrastructure in India: Improving the quality of life and services to the urban population has been given a higher priority over improving the provision and coverage of basic civic services in the rural areas. 

• Low project viability due to limited paying capacity of the rural population: The rural population lacks capacity to pay required user charges/ fees for availing quality civic services such as piped water supply, sanitation, etc. This also results in the local authorities not being able to even recover their administrative and O & M costs required to provide these services.

Vision for 2025 is for 100 per cent of the rural population to have access to pucca houses with basic civic amenities such as piped drinking water, power supply and LPG connections. For there to be the provision of urban facilities in rural areas under the Rurban Mission. There should be good quality and well-maintained rural roads facilitating improved connectivity, safer and efficient access to livelihood and socio-economic opportunities for rural communities. Under Jal Jeevan Mission, 100 per cent of rural households to have functional household tap connections by 2024 and 100 per cent of the rural habitations to have full access to safe drinking water. All rural households to have access to toilets (Individual Household Latrines) and for 100% of villages to be Open Defecation Free (ODF). 

Several reforms that are identified as imperative in the development of Rural infrastructure are as follows: 

•  Boosting rural affordable housing to ensure ‘Housing for All by 2022’: However, for the affordable housing initiative to succeed there needs to be efficient land usage and easy access to finance and innovative financing mechanism. For that the government is setting up an affordable housing fund in the National Housing Bank (NHB) that can be funded from the priority sector lending shortfall. 

•  Improving condition of roads under PMGSY:  All roads to be covered by five-year maintenance contracts, to be entered into along with the construction contract with the same contractor in accordance with standard bidding document (SBD). Policy Framework for road maintenance by National Rural Infrastructure Development Agency in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be implemented on a state level. Ensuring greater fund availability, acknowledging feedback from the Meri Sadak App and Improving last-mile connectivity in rural areas.

• Improving coverage of basic civic amenities: By increasing accountability of GPs by decentralising service delivery model, improving the capacity of local government to undertake and implement quality infrastructure projects in the rural areas. And Creating awareness among the rural population regarding user charges/ fees for quality services/ amenities. 

• Improving supply of drinking water: By bringing structural changes in the regulatory environment, a shift is needed in the institutional framework of the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) to make water management more holistic and multidisciplinary. Restructuring and unifying the CWC and CGWB to form a new National Water Commission (NWC). A model law on water resource regulatory mechanisms can also be drafted and implemented on state level. 

Centre and state government have over all estimated a total capital expenditure of Rs. 7,73,915 crore between fiscals 2020 and 2025 on rural infrastructure development. Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation will be implementing the Jal Jeevan Mission to provide functional household tap connection to every rural household i.e., “Har Ghar Nal se Jal” by 2024. The program will be implemented at an estimated total capex of Rs. 3,60,000 crore shared between states and centre as follows: Rs. 2,48,626 crore would be invested in rural housing under PMAY Gramin and about Rs 162,329 crore would be invested to improve rural roads under PMGSY.

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