I have always been a fan of the concept of ‘Main Street’ that have been in existence in the US for over 100 years now. I have also been a big fan of the PURA (Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas) concept that is envisioned as a part of India 2020 programme – helping India achieve the status of a developed nation by the year 2020. Only this year, I was able to compare the similarities between the two concepts as until then it never struck me that they are two ways of achieving the same result.
This blog (though it appears to have taken the form of a whitepaper 🙂 is an attempt to see if my view of Main Street USA will help us take some ideas from this and implement it to improve rural India using the PURA concept.
Before I confuse you more, let me explain my understanding of each concept separately and also the thought process behind the similarities in the goal behind both these concepts.
Main Street Concept in the US
The US of A is made of a large number of small cities (can also be called as town), which are much smaller in size and population when compared to cities in India. Due to the vast landscape in the US, the government has taken a simple approach when it comes to creating new settlements in the country. Before a town is built and people start moving in, the government made sure the town has all the necessary infrastructure that is required for people to have a minimum ‘standard of living’. Some of the things I have seen as a part of minimum standard of living available in any city in the US are:
- Proper roadways – by this I mean a city should be well connected with other cities
- Proper communications – by this I mean access to various communication mediums such as tv, phone, internet, etc
- School System – by this I mean a situation where the parents can send their children to Government Schools and expect a good quality of education
- Basic Infrastructure – such as electricity, drainage, water supply, etc
Once this is established, the next step is the evolution of a place called ‘Main Street’. This is usually the centre of the town/city, where businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and other businesses come up.
Due to this natural evolution that is facilitated by the minimum standards of living provided by the government, people start to move into the new cities and slowly the town starts to flourish – with the ability for each business to sustain and grow purely based on the local needs in the city.
I believe this simple formula (I know it is not that simple 🙂 ) has helped the US grow well over the past 100 years into the super power it is today. If we cannot provide the basic necessities
I know many of you will bring in to consideration all the limitations in the US such as the country’s three trillion deficit, the unnecessary wars, etc, but I am only trying to focus on the good things that we can learn and implement in India. So back to the topic in focus.
PURA Concept in India
PURA stands for Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas. The concept of PURA was introduced by Dr.Abdul Kalam to the nation on the republic day eve address on 25-Jan-2003. During his speech he said:
The vision of transformation to a developed India can only be realized if we launch a mega mission for empowering the rural people. My visits to the rural parts of India have confirmed the problem of rural India depends on the extent of connectivity available there. The connectivity that I refer would include four components. Physical connectivity, by providing roads in rural areas, electronic connectivity by providing reliable communication network and knowledge connectivity by establishing more professional instituitions and vocational training centers…. All this connectivity needs to be done in an integrated way so that the economic connectivity will emerge leading to self-actuating people and economy… I am sure that removal of poverty will call for Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA)….. The PURA has to be a business proposition economically viable and managed by entrepreneurs and local people and small scale industrialists…..”
The idea is very simple. Create physical connectivity between rural towns, so that trade will flourish between such rural areas. Provide the electronic connectivity between the areas so that communication improves. Provide the necessary training and vocational courses so that by empowering the rural people with knowledge, we improve their ability to generate new ideas and products, which will be in demand within the town and also with other neighbouring areas.
This will result in the following:
- Reduction of Poverty
- Reduction of Unemployment in Rural Areas
- Reduction of migration from rural to urban areas
- Generation of wealth and hence prosperity within rural areas
- Empowering of rural youth to think creatively and come up with innovative ideas and products
- Reduction in involvement of anti-social activities by youth from rural areas (eg. Supari killings, Kuruvi trips, etc)
Differences between US and India – Evolution of Cities and Villages
Before we start comparing how the PURA concept can evolve in India with respect to how has happened similarly on the Main Street in the US, we have to take into consideration the various differences between the two countries and how they evolved:
- In India the population density is very high – the size of the country is much lesser than the US while the population is almost three times that of the US.
- In India people started living in places, and then came the government, with their tasks of identifying where the roads can come, how to bring in electricity to the villages, where to dig up the drainage systems, etc. In the US, it is the other way – as explained earlier, the government brings in the infrastructure and then people move in.
Given these differences, it is very important to work around the limitations in India, when implementing the PURA concept, while still trying to adopt the key ideas of the Main Street concept in the USA.
Similarities between Main Street and PURA
If you notice the way in which Main Street concept has evolved in the US and compare it with the way PURA is proposed, it is very obvious that we are talking about the same goal, with almost similar approaches to solve the same problem. In both scenarios, the idea is for the government to act as the vehicle and the governing body, that will facilitate, enable and empower the rural people.
Limitations in PURA and work arounds
Ever since PURA was implemented in 2003 as a pilot with 30 crores investment from the government, by year 2006-2007, it was identified that the concept has not really picked up. A major reason for this was the dependency on the government to act as the catalyst for implementing it. While many scholars have come up with many different ideas (this link has one that advocates Public Private Partnership model as an alternative for PURA), I am still of the fundamental belief that the government exists today to do exactly that: act as the catalyst for implementing schemes that will improve the standard of living of every citizen.
I fully understand that I am a very inexperienced person, who has not been on the ground in India for the past 10 years to know the reality of PURA and the difficulties in its implementation. I also understand that it is very easy to sit in front of a computer and type up analysis reports like these, without knowing the difficulties that are on the ground. Still the concept of Main Street USA is still something that I have seen work in the US. I feel we can learn a lot about how the government can be the key factor in helping the country improve by implementing PURA in its right ways.
I hope that with such inspiring thoughts from Dr.Abdul Kalam, it is up to the youth of the country to start thinking about how they can contribute towards helping the government in implementing PURA. I hope I can also contribute to this much more in the near future.
If you are involved in this, or in any way are thinking of helping in improving India, please reply with your thoughts and ideas. Together we can see a developed India in the near future 🙂