Urban amenities for rural India - with private help

Urban amenities for rural India - with private help

The scheme for Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA), an idea propounded by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, could well be an answer to the burgeoning problem of mass migration to cities, officials say.

"The cities are falling apart due to huge migration. The difference between urban and rural areas is in terms of organisation of civic amenities. PURA aims to provide to villages the same level of amenities as in urban areas and this will slow the pace of migration," said a ministry official.

The scheme envisages selection of private players to develop livelihood opportunities, urban amenities and infrastructure of prescribed levels and take responsibility for their maintenance for 10 years in the selected panchayat clusters.

To be initially implemented on a pilot basis at 10 places in the public-private partnership framework, the scheme has generated keen interest among private players with 93 business entities responding positively to the expression of interest notice of the rural development ministry.

The ministry intends to complete the selection process by December and sign the concessions agreement by January next year.

"A tripartite agreement will be signed between the ministry, the state governments and the private partner after finalisation of proposals," Arvind Mayaram, additional secretary in the rural development ministry, said.

The selected private partners will be required to provide amenities like water supply, sewerage, drainage, solid waste management, street lighting and telecommunications besides creating avenues for skill enhancement and economic activity.

Ministry officials said the scheme will have a direct impact by reducing migration from rural areas.

According to the 2001 census, the total migrant population between 1991 and 2001 was 98.30 million of which about 22 percent comprised people who migrated from rural to urban areas.

The ministry official said efforts to improve rural amenities through allocation of more funds by the government were not yielding the desired results.

"The government infrastructure never reaches a village in one go. Amenities like road, water and power reach a village in gaps of years, reducing the impact of development," he said, adding that maintenance of created assets was also an issue as funds provided by state governments for the purpose were insufficient.

PURA envisages convergence of funding from various schemes of the central government, private financing and capital grant.

The private partners selected for the scheme will work for a gram panchayat or a cluster of such panchayats having a population between 25,000 and 40,000. They will be entitled to create revenue earning facilities like village-linked tourism, integrated rural hub, warehousing, agricultural service centre and other rural economy-based projects.
The private players said the scheme was both an opportunity and a challenge.

"It is an innovative but challenging scheme which will create infrastructure in a group of villages in partnership with panchayats. This is what the country needs," said R.C.M. Reddy, CEO, Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited, which has submitted expression of interest for PURA.

He said the private players will have an option of building amenities such as low-cost schools, bio-gas plants or affordable housing in consultation with panchayats.

A senior official from Drishti Development and Communications Limited, which has also shown interest in PURA, said community ownership of the scheme was vital for its success. "It can't be imposed on panchayats. They should feel good about it," the official said.

The ministry will scale up PURA based on the outcome of the pilot project. "We will be able to take a decision about scaling up the scheme sometime by 2012," Mayaram said.
Kalam had laid thrust on PURA in his speeches and the scheme was initially launched by the Rural Development Ministry from 2004-05 to 2006-07 on a pilot basis.