In simple words, the glaring disparities in income distribution, consumption and quality of life between
rural and urban India is known as rural-urban divide. There is a lack of livelihood opportunities, modern amenities and services, necessary for decent living in rural areas. There are huge differences in the availability of physical and social infrastructure in rural and urban areas which divide them.
India is a land of villages. According to the 2011 Census, India has more than 6 lakh villages while there are around 7,000 towns and urban centres. Out of a total population of 121 crores, the rural population accounts for 69% and urban population 31%.
On the contrary, economic policies have primarily focussed on urban areas. These relied on the philosophy that the benefits of India’s high growth and expansion of industrial urban centres would automatically percolate down to the rural area. This has led to the unequal growth of rural areas and has resulted in a sense of deprivation and dissatisfaction amongst a large percentage of rural population. Hence a majority of rural society remains excluded from India’s journey of development.
About 70% of the population lives in rural area and about 50% of the overall labour force is still dependent on agriculture that is not productive enough. The GDP contribution of agriculture to the nation is only about 14% while for industries and services sector (employers of people living in urban areas), it is 26% and 60% respectively.
India has an insufficient public healthcare infrastructure. A majority of health infrastructure is in the private sector, which is limited to the middle classes in urban India. Rural areas are catered by government-run dispensaries which lack infrastructure and medicines. The doctors too are not willing to serve in rural area. Meanwhile, patients have to travel long distances to elite public hospitals. Similarly, rural areas lack quality educational institutions which are mainly concentrated in urban areas, and are out of reach of poor rural people.
Development of rural areas is slow due to the improper and inadequate provision of infrastructure when compared to urban areas. The primary hindrance to growth in rural productivity and prosperity is the lack of basic infrastructure such as connectivity through roads, electricity, housing, clean water and sanitation. Even after more than 70 years of Independence, the focus of policy-makers has been on few selected cities to be transformed as Smart Cities. The programme excludes rural areas and it will further worsen the rural-urban divide.
In closed rural societies, social institutions such as caste system, joint family system and various social customs play a major role in the day-to-day life of an individual. For example, the rigid caste system does not allow a low caste person to give up his traditional work. While in urban areas, the emphasis is on individual’s merit and qualification.
Although there is no dearth of schemes for rural development, the benefits of these schemes are not reaching the target population mainly due to corruption in the disbursal of funds, non-transparency in financial transactions, wrong identification of the beneficiaries, lack of involvement of Gram Panchayats in planning and implementation and lack of political and administrative accountability.
The rural-urban divide has led to the generation of two polar opposites—India and Bharat. Many economists
and intellectuals argue that while India is urban and progressive, Bharat is rural and underdeveloped. The rural area characterised by lower wages, a small size of landholdings, lack of opportunities and amenities have been a pushing factor for migration from rural area to urban area. Although, migration is helpful in raising incomes and equalising social status yet uncontrolled migration of rural population to urban area has led to rising of slums, congestion in cities, the problem of traffic and increase in crime rates. With the achievement of self-sufficiency in food grains and implementation of Food Security Act, Right to Education Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other significant poverty alleviation schemes, poverty is reducing. But, the rate of poverty reduction in urban area is higher than that of rural area. Also, today, nearly 26% of rural India is poor, compared to a meagre 13% in urban area, the growing inequalities between the rural and urban area, rural poverty and exploitation have led to peasant struggles throughout India latest being Madhya Pradesh farmers protest in 2017. Left-wing extremism particularly the Maoist insurgency is also a manifestation of a huge rural-urban divide as the Maoists see urban people as invaders mining their resources. Also, the Red-corridor area comprises the poorest, backward and remote areas who are devoid of basic amenities.
Rural-urban disparities, particularly in post-colonial countries, have for long been one of the causes of concern for the policymakers. The disparities are seen in all spheres of human life—economic and non-economic. The long colonial rule in India had created an urban-rural divide.
We find huge divisions in India; the most prominent being the divide of Bharat and India i.e., the nation of rural people and India represents urban people. A major part of the poor consists of rural poor. The benefits of tremendous economic growth have not percolated down to all parts of the society and the reason is that all sectors have not yet been integrated. India’s economic growth is urban-led, with the gaps in living standards between the cities and countryside
widening in the recent years. An important aspect of generating “inclusive growth” is shifting the target of government aid to rural areas. Typically, large projects such as power generation, roads whereby freight can travel, and airports receive the lion’s share of government subsidies, while rural infrastructure gets comparatively little.
Rural infrastructure, which serves 70% of the population, does not get the attention it deserves. There is an
increasing feeling that only few sections of the population rich and middle class particularly in urban area, corporate sector, foreign institutional investors, IT sector have benefited from the economic reforms. But there is an important element of inclusive growth, which is related to whether the benefits of overall productivity expansion
result in higher private earnings for all groups within the economy.
The urban predominance remains the norm regardless of the per capita GDP or development level of countries and also tends to persist as countries transform into urbanised economies with higher industrial and service base. These disparities in income distribution, consumption, and quality of life between the rural and urban area are known as the rural-urban divide, which have been studied adequately in literature. However, there is also a lack of livelihood opportunities, basic amenities and social infrastructure services necessary for the decent living in rural area. In fact, there are huge differences in the availability of infrastructure in health, education and basic amenities, which draws a divide between the rural and urban area. The academic or policy discussions have also periodically expressed deep concern on the widening inter-state disparities or the growing rural-urban divide in many developing countries.
The rural-urban disparity has long remained as one important concern for India’s development, whereby the disparities are seen in both the economic and non-economic dimensions. With about two-thirds of the total
Indians living in rural area, there is a wide gap between the rural and the urban India with respect to livelihood, living conditions and economic empowerment. Many in rural India also lack access to education, nutrition, health care, sanitation, land and other assets and therefore persist in poverty. Further, the rural income per capita in India has remained stagnant over the years due to a combination of government policies and control. Thus, even after accounting for cost-of-living adjustments, the per capita income of urban workers remains far greater than that of their rural counterparts. In recent times, the per capita income in rural area has been observed to only 40% of that in urban area for a majority of states.
In India, we have created an economy of rich metro cities which are surging and poor villages which are decaying. Hence, there is an immediate need to reduce the gap between these two area. In recent years, many steps have been taken in this regard. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission is being implemented which aims at strengthening rural infrastructure. The focus is on village clusters to be provided with modern amenities which will attract investment and provide employment. Another strategy being adopted is the Rural-Urban Synergy which aims at creating linkages between rural and urban areas. It will lead to a smooth flow of agricultural and other commodities from peripheral rural area to adjoining urban markets. Similar linkages will be developed in the form of transition of people, money, household items, information, and service sectors. Also, Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana scheme is being implemented since 2015 wherein a Member of Parliament has to choose villages in his constituency to be transformed as model villages with all social, welfare and infrastructure facilities.