The notion of rural development has been conceived in diverse ways by researchers, ranging from a set of goals and programmes to a well-knit strategy, approach or even an ideology. If we read through the relevant literature, we realise that its scope and content are vague and does not have well-accepted analytical boundaries. As has often been noted, however, this may be viewed both as a weakness as well as strength.

India is a land of villages and seventy percent of India’s population lives in villages is an oft-repeated cliche but there is no getting away from the truth of it. In many ways, the rural areas have benefited from the developments in science and technology indirectly as well as directly. Scientific inputs in agriculture are of direct importance to the rural sector. So are the expansion efforts in telecommunications and roads, though much remains to be done in these fields. Technology for rural areas must be aimed at creating gainful employment, recycling wastes to create value-added products, human welfare through better housing, drinking water, sanitation, elimination of drudgery, promotion of non-conventional energy and decentralised techno-economic systems, particularly for remote areas.

In the last few decades, there has been a major effort to implement the spirit of the Scientific Policy Resolution (SPR). However, due to various reasons, particularly because of the large and continuing increase in population, it has not been possible to truly bring about an impact of scientific advances on the life of the people to the extent expected, but the desire to do so has been there throughout. It is recognised worldwide that science and technology are among the most powerful forces to bring about dynamic changes in the society; and that appropriate and wise application of science and technology to all facets related to human welfare can bring about desired social and economic transformation.

In a country of India’s size and diversity, where more than 70% of the population resides in the rural areas, inputs of science and, technology in agriculture, irrigation, water management, education, health, energy, industry, transport, communications, employment generation, housing, etc. are crucial. The size of the land holdings is very small and becoming smaller with increase in population; technological inputs are, therefore, essential to increase productivity and economic viability.

We also require a major attitudinal change; rural development does not mean only use of simple and what many regard as appropriate technologies which may be obsolete and inappropriate. In fact, the word “appropriate’ should be looked at in the larger context i.e. what is it that would be most appropriate for the rural areas to fulfill their basic needs and to improve the quality of life of the people taking note of the available skills, financial and natural resources. Some of the technologies appropriate in this context may involve advanced concepts and use very recent scientific developments.

Science and Technology can develop in rural communities a learning and innovation capacity that increases the effectiveness of their efforts to solve problems and improve their lives. Science and technology empowers these communities and increases the effectiveness of their development efforts through informed decision making to achieve the objectives of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable development in rural areas. However, technological applications are largely restricted to urban areas. Rural areas have not reaped enough benefits from them. Science and Technology have played an important role in promoting agriculture during the last few decades. The role of television and radio in rural education and extension services has been well documented. These technologies will continue to play a crucial role in and along with new innovations in Science & technology. The technological revolution is leading to the need to develop a new paradigm for agriculture.

In the context of agriculture, there are five key services or functions that are very closely related to Science & technology. An access to information through different types of Agricultural Information Systems (AIS); Monitoring the situation of natural resources and environmental impact through different Information Processing Tools (i.e. analysis of environment deterioration, soil erosion, deforestation etc.); Education and Communication Technologies that are playing a very important role in generating new approaches to learning and knowledge management; Networking where
Science & Technology can contribute greatly to relating people/institutions among them and facilitating the emergence of ‘Virtual Communities of Stakeholders’ that generate and exchange information and knowledge among themselves; and Decision Support Systems (DSS) through which data and information provide relevant knowledge inputs for informed decision-making are playing an important role in converting information systems into knowledge systems. In fact, if well managed, networking is the first step in the direction of developing interactive knowledge development processes that may lead to learning networks.

Energy is essential for agriculture for inputs such as fertilisers, for delivery of water and for transportation. It is also needed to bring about rural industrialisation. According to a report, the global average per capita energy consumption has been consistently increasing. Between 1970-2014, average consumption increased by approximately 45 percent. This growth in per capita energy consumption does, however, vary significantly between countries and regions. Most of the growth in per capita energy consumption over the last few decades has been driven by increased consumption in transitioning middle-income (and to a lesser extent, low income countries). There is a significant increase in consumption in transitioning BRICS economies (China, India and Brazil in particular); China’s per capita use has grown by nearly 250 percent since 2000; India by more than 50 percent; and Brazil by 38 percent. India has increased its focus on developing alternative sources of energy, particularly nuclear, solar and wind energy. The primary energy consumption in India is the third biggest after China and the USA with 5.6% global share in 2017.

Water is the most crucial single resource for the survival of human life. Efforts are needed to improve the availability of drinking water in rural areas; it is necessary to devise and implement scientific methods for water harvesting, conservation and recycling. Potable water supply in the rural areas has to be given the highest priority. This effort calls for community participation, technology transfer, evaluation and assessment of existing rural water supply systems, studies on maintenance of water distribution system, development and rehabilitation of springs and use of hydraulic rams for water supply in hilly areas, use of solar energy for rural water supply, development of integrated package for water treatment, to make the water potable; etc.

Housing is a key area in rural development. Several technologies have been developed in the area of low cost building materials, designs and construction techniques. Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee and Structural Engineering Research Centre (SERC), Madras, have done a great deal of work in these areas.

Biotechnology is a promising segment in the context of rural development. In the field of biotechnology, developments relating to bio-fertilisers, aquaculture, biomass production through tissue culture techniques, embryo-transfer technology to upgrade cattle, herds, etc. have enormous potential for employment generation and increasing efficiency and productivity for activities in daily life in rural areas. Mechanisms to make these techniques effective on a large scale have to be worked out.

Use of Information Technology in sectors like agriculture, irrigation, energy, health, family planning, education, employment and transportation is vital for bringing about a major transformation in the rural sector. Information related to local resources, skills and need is important to carry out effective decentralised planning.

Space and Technology is also very important for rural development. There are a wide range of applications of remote sensing technology in areas of disaster warning for coastal fishermen, inland/marine fisheries, minor
irrigation, water targeting for drinking water, wasteland identification, vegetation mapping, drought monitoring, etc. Already, with the use of space imagery, ground water potential zone maps have been prepared for more than 370 districts in India which include 91 Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP) districts and 20 District Domestic Product (DDP) districts.

Despite the promises that technology holds, there remains a need for substantial increase in old-fashioned investments to catch up with the backlog in physical infrastructure and education to achieve a geographically more dispersed development away from the big cities. Around 25% of Indian adults cannot read or write, and the gender divide must be addressed with investment, particularly in rural women’s education and training. Geographical application of new technologies is still limited in rural areas; many farmers remain unaware of these advances. Insufficient connectivity in rural areas along with a lack of basic computer knowledge and literacy hinder development in rural areas. Substantial investment is needed in physical infrastructure, power, broadband, transportation and education, particularly in rural regions and among the poorest populations. The utility of Science and Technology will be paramount in achieving the aim of rural development as it is the most important and effective tool for ensuring poverty alleviation, food security, life skills, and educating the masses. But only scientific and rational outlook can help us determine whether the technology is in harmony with nature or not. Else it may adversely affect our natural resources, flora and fauna. Only on inculcating this rational and logical thinking, we will be able to achieve the goal of sustainable development. Technologies should be used in a sustainable manner and only to the extent that they do not interfere with the nature and ecosystem. The key to a developed and prosperous village lies in the sensible and rational usage of technologies which are in harmony with nature.

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