How Smart Villages Could Transform Rural India

Smart Villages are a good way of ensuring rural areas are not left out of the development agenda even as cities boost their infrastructure facilities.

With the Smart Cities’ programme well underway, it was merely a question of time before the need for Smart Villages came on the radar, given the statistical predominance of the latter. As per data from Census 2011, 69 per cent of the nation’s population (around 833 million) resides in the rural region, while only 31 per cent (approx. 377 million) live in urban areas. If we are seeking to take the nation forward it will clearly have to involve the development of the rural area. If we are to move forward towards the goal of a developed nation, then smart villages will be a critical component of that milestone.

Today, the rural population is reeling under the impact of shrinking of employment and wealth generation opportunities. The return of city labourers to their native villages is just one manifestation of the temporary reverse migration. Against this backdrop, the creation of Smart Villages could address several challenges in one go. Smart Villages could open up not only employment avenues but also raise living standards in villages where infrastructure is palpably absent. This is a crucial aspect that could stem conventional migration from villages to cities, which is putting pressure on urban infrastructure and leaving a huge social impact.

Blurring The Divide

Smart Villages are a good way of ensuring rural areas are not left out of the development agenda even as cities boost their infrastructure facilities. Development of modern infrastructure and urban conveniences in rural regions, whereby the rural-urban divide is blurred, is generally referred to as ‘rurbanisation’ in India. Originating in the 1920s, the term refers to the influence of rural life on urban society or vice versa.

The importance of modern and Smart infrastructure is being recognised at both National and State Governments. For instance, in mid-February this year, the Government of Jharkhand launched its Momentum Jharkhand Global Investors’ Summit 2017. Recognising that rural migration to urban areas is giving rise to various related problems, the Jharkhand Government is looking to build green-field Smart Cities, while simultaneously improving infrastructure in rural zones. The State Government feels it critical to stop migration to cities within and outside the state, it is necessary to provide civic amenities as well as jobs in the villages.

Our world is becoming more electric, more connected and more distributed. With 66 per cent of the global population by 2050 expected to be living in cities, connectivity has to reconstruct our world. Around 50 billion things are likely to be connected in the next five years. With everything automated, monitored and controlled through the network of smart and connected systems, usage can be curbed as required, ensuring savings of up to 30 per cent on energy, water and other costs. Hence, rising from these aspects is the need for development of Smart Villages which is important to strike a balance in the entire ecosystem.

To avoid any pitfalls and maintain a consistent growth in this initiative, it is important to establish a clear roadmap of activities, responsibilities and timelines for all stakeholders. Implementation of any scheme without close monitoring and feedback about periodic progress always runs the serious risk of ending up a non-starter.

With urbanisation, digitisation and industrialisation becoming the megatrends across the world, Smart Village is an important aspect that needs to looked at along with other industry trends. IOT is poised to play a critical role in the future and likewise, it should be well leveraged in the rural areas to improve infrastructure, creating more efficient and cost effective services, better public transportation, and keeping people safe and more engaged in the community. Connected devices provide us the intelligence across various utilities like electricity, water, gas, transport, sewage and solar power – and that is the key role IoT will play in Smart Villages like they are in Smart Cities.

Adhering To The Roadmap

Accordingly, one should be clear about the path forward in creating Smart Villages. For example, given the sheer size of a city, a green-field or brown-field Smart City is always viable. Conversely, villages tend to be smaller. Therefore, transforming one village at a time into a Smart Village would erode economies of scale.

Instead, a cluster of villages needs to be taken together in order to make the Smart Village concept viable and economical. A series of contiguous villages in specific Gram Panchayats could be taken up jointly for developing into Smart Villages. India has about 638,000 villages. Around 100 clusters of potential Smart Villages can be created across India, with each cluster holding about 12-15 villages.

That comprises the first challenge. The second lies in finding appropriate products and services as well as suitable vendors to do justice in creating the Smart Village within allocated timelines. In this context, the Government will do best to use experienced, tried-and-tested vendors to implement its mandate. The project could then be commissioned via the PPP (public-private partnership) model.

Simultaneously, it must be borne in mind that electricity is the prime element in the success or failure of a Smart City or Smart Village. Rural electrification will, therefore, be a crucial cog in the success of Smart Villages. Without uninterrupted power supply, Smart products and services would fail to function satisfactorily since connectivity is a key element for Smart devices.

As GDP growth falters temporarily due to the economic challenges a focus on Smart Villages could help bolster the agenda of inclusive development. Smart Villages can then emerge as an apt solution to stop rural migration and transform India’s villages by turning them into self-sufficient ecosystems. 

The Author is Managing Director and Country President – Schneider Electric India

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house