Authors – Vivek Dahiya and Payal Dey
Needless to say, rural and urban areas are dependent on each
other economically and financially. With most of the rural population surviving on agriculture, they eye urban areas as potential markets to earn profits. Likewise, urban businesses also depend on rural areas for raw materials. For the functioning of this demand-supply cycle, we need “sustainable infrastructure”, which is in deficit in India, more so due to a huge infrastructural gap between two areas. Because of this gap, India is still struggling with economic disparity.
Status of Education and Health Sector
“India lives in villages” – these words of Mahatma Gandhi are relatable even after 70 years of independence. The 2011 census revealed that while almost 70 percent of the households were in rural areas, India’s development vision is focused on the urban sector. Better education and employment opportunities are the main reasons people from rural areas are migrating to urban areas. Although the gap in education between rural and urban areas in India decreased up to a notable extent, census 2011 points out that the number of school dropouts in rural areas is much higher than in urban areas. According to UNESCO, 90 percent of children from rural areas remain illiterate even after four years of schooling and students from the 8th standard are unable to solve the mathematics problems of standard 5. Despite achieving universal literacy for young women in richer urban sections of the society, , it is presumed to take another 63 years to do so for poor young women of the country.
The status in health sector is no different. Indian health care sector is not only handicapped in rural areas but also in urban areas. While the world is fighting with the diseases like AIDS, India is still struggling with diseases like Tuberculosis in both rural and urban areas. While in rural areas, one has to travel 30 kms on an average to avail health care facilities due to the poor health care infrastructure, in urban areas health care facilities in private hospitals is not pocket-friendly to the working class.
Intervention through PPPs
PPPs as a mechanism are sometimes found biased in case of rural-urban divide. With urban sector being more lucrative, PPPs prefer to remain clustered in urban areas. Higher population densities in urban areas also make it easier to provide infrastructural facilities as development of urban areas has been taken as one of the important indicators of overall development of the nation, making government’s development policies highly urban centric. With population in urban areas being aware of their rights, government and private sector becomes more accountable to providing better services due to which educational and health facilities are comparatively better in urban areas.
Rural areas on the other hand enjoy only partial facilities infrastructure development in education, health, transportation and telecom: low awareness and less citizen engagement in rural areas could be the prime reasons for this trend. Although India has the second largest road network in the world, many parts of the country are still not connected to basic transportation facilities. With high dependency of commerce on transportation sector to carry out the process from procuring raw materials to supplying end products; poor transportation infrastructure results in small businesses from taking off. Transportation sector is also interconnected to the education and health sector: due to poor transport facilities, people in rural areas have to go an extra mile to avail the services, even remaining isolated sometimes.
Although PPPs are not a panacea for solving all infrastructure woes, it could serve as a middle ground to tackle problems in the social sectors like education and health.
PPPs in health and education can help in reducing the rural-urban divide the way ‘108 Emergency service’ did in Tamil Nadu and 15 other States of India. Started as a CSR activity, over 10,000 ambulances are now saving million lives per annum in India,. In Tamil Nadu, with over 800 ambulances, the service has saved close to 386 thousand lives since 2008. The ambulance service is free of cost in both rural and urban areas, and has resulted in decreasing the infant mortality as 99.5 percent of the deliveries take place in medical institutions. It was not possible for the rural population to reach in time to the hospitals earlier, but this through the intervention of PPPs, the emergency response time has reduced. The service also ensures provision of timely health care facilities to rural populations.
Similarly in education sector, voucher system has been an alternative to traditional Indian education. A school voucher is a certificate that parents can use to pay for education of their children at a school of their choice – be it private or public school. In rural areas, citizens don’t have any choices due to low per capita incomes, hence are forced to send their children to public schools, where the standard of education is not up to the mark. With voucher system, parents could opt to pay for private schools also. This results in increasing the competition between government-run and private schools, increasing the standard of education in schools. The PPP initiative first began in Delhi by the Center for Civil Society (CCS), where 408 vouchers were provided to students in 68 wards of Delhi. The concept of school choice was then launched an extensive 7-State campaign in Delhi, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Bihar.
In order to be a successful, the motive of PPPs should be very clear: if working in sensitive areas like health and education, seeking profits would hamper the core social objective of saving lives in health care, and creating human resource in education sector, which ultimately is going to help in the growth of nation. With social sectors remaining neglected, it is essential that the Government takes more initiatives to promote PPPs, encouraging the private sector to come forward for philanthropic and CSR activities to address and reduce the prevailing rural-urban divide.