July 27, 2007. Former president A P J Abdul Kalam was attending his second meeting of the day in Gandhigram University, Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu.
While the earlier meeting for Kalam was at the multi-purpose auditorium, which seated over a thousand, the Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas meeting was in the silver jubilee hall of Gandhigram University.
The silver jubilee hall is much smaller with a seating capacity of 200. There was no room for the students. It was full of people from outside the university and staff.
The students were waiting outside for Kalam to arrive.
What is PURA?
It is a word that Kalam has been repeating for the past two years. Unfortunately, the politicians in our country and the bureaucrats have not taken up the war cry that Kalam has initiated.
So, his remains the lone voice in this regard. A particularly loud and strong voice, but still a lone voice, a bad sign in a democracy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that the launching of PURA will bridge the urban-rural divide and achieve balanced socio-economic development. He said this in his Independence Day speech in 2003.
PURA means giving thrust to four core areas. Physical connectivity, by building good roads, transport services and quality power.
Electronic connectivity, by providing reliable communications network.
Knowledge connectivity, by establishing more professional institutes and vocational training centres.
PURA means providing urban amenities in rural areas.
Schools with good infrastructure, committed teachers, production centres for rural artisans, primary health centres and recreation centres.
Market connectivity that will help provide the best markets for the services and products of rural people.
We must constantly expand and enrich employment opportunities for them. It should enhance the quality of life in rural areas and thus stop the migration to cities.
Good water and cleanliness should be the first priority. Effective waste disposal is a must to begin with.
Roads have to be built to connect clusters of villages where one good road should service as many villages as possible.
Low cost transport connecting these villages, broadband connectivity, so that the Internet revolution reaches every village. The setting up of community colleges, that will improve vocational skills. The courses in the community colleges should lead to work in the local area.
The topic can be discussed exhaustively to no avail unless steps are taken on the ground to implement them.
Micro-credit should be available to villagers. In Tamil Nadu, this is being done by setting up women's and men's self help groups. These groups gather money, borrow from the bank and lend money to their members at low interest rates.
Many SHGs function as money lending clubs only. A few have taken to start small businesses and industry. One group in Tirunelveli actually runs its own minibus service after borrowing Rs 9 lakh from a bank.
Those SHGs which start some work on their own are doing extremely well because the entire group works for the betterment of the company. This should become the norm and not the exception.
Banks should give loans to SHGs only if they start a business or industry.
One SHG in Alwarthorpe in Tuticorin district has a bio-diesel plant, which uses Jatropha seeds to get diesel which is selling very well.
Though Kalam is no longer the president of India, he continues to be the people's president.
As long as his voice is heard, PURA will be pursued.
The Gandhigram University is making a concerted effort with the Tamil Nadu government to implement PURA.
The Gandigram University has an action plan for PURA. It remains to be seen whether it can convince the Tamil Nadu government to implement it in some areas.