Thursday, November 25, 2010


Rural households spend hours availing of basic services!

At the planning level, the government has been coming out with myriad development plans since last six decades, in response to the needs of the rural poor! The government in their various budgets planned almost everything that is and was a distant dream for rural India. But in reality, the authorities have even failed to reduce the associated cost of availing these basics within the rural poor! Though it might sound a cliché, but even today many people in our villages die of otherwise-curable-diseases, on account of lack of clean water and safe sanitation — quality health have never been an agenda for our planners but what is poignant is that even access to the present sub-standard health has also not been made universal.The same goes for schooling, in spite of RTE making it mandatory for government to build a school every one kilometer, the states failed to even provide a school every village!

All these have not only denied the rural folks with equal opportunities but have also robbed them of any opportunity for a potential dignified future livelihood, exceptions apart! It is no news that in most of the rural areas, scarcity of resources like water, health and education facilities forces a villager to travel long distances which in itself is a huge opportunity cost, considering that time could have been utilised for more productive means!

As per a recent media report, around 57 per cent of households in rural India travel up to fi ve km every day (that is equal to three hours) to fetch drinking water. This means that on an average rural household invest 1000 hours in travelling to fetch water every year! Considering an average Indian to earn Rs 36000 per year (as per the 2008-09 advance estimates for National Income released by the Central Statistical Organisation) and considering a total man-hour of 2400 (8 hours every day for 300 working days), the cost of fetching water for an average household comes to a staggering Rs 15,000 per year! This is even more than the income which even NREGA promises for 100 days of work (Rs 100 a day for 100 days)! And mind you, this is just the cost of fetching water. Same goes in the case of access to health facilities. As per Sangita Reddy, Executive Director at the Apollo Institute, the average rural Indian has to travel more than 50 km for health care, which not only delays health services but also adds to the cost of access to the health service. And then there is education. On an average, village students have to walk for 10 km (can go up to 25 km) one way to the nearest school. That actually makes a half-a-day study hour of the school! This not only wastes time which could have been otherwise invested in education and self-learning, but also deters children (especially girls) from attending schools in villages! If all these costs are added — one can easily say that the cost of setting potable water infrastructure, health centre and schools and successfully maintaining and running them would have cost a fraction! And again mind you, this does not include the opportunity cost of the time that could have been invested for other productive engagements, which in itself could have taken millions out of poverty!

One might debate that these costs are intangibles and rationalising the same might not add to the lives or lifestyles of the rural households! But then one cannot disagree to the fact that the cost of intangibles are very high and it is only creation of tangible infrastructure which can go a long way in making basic accessible to them, which they deserve for long!


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