After select cities, it is now the turn of 300 village clusters to be ‘smart’. The decision was taken by the Cabinet on Wednesday, ahead of the Bihar polls. The government denied any link between the polls and the move, as it would be up to the states to take a call on the specific clusters and that will take its own time.ALSO READ: Proposed Smart Cities rank low in swachh bharat ranking ALSO READ: Why some cities were kept out of the smart city list The Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission, named after the founder of the Jan Sangh, an earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is aimed at setting up these clusters by 2019-20 across the country. The Cabinet approved the scheme under which village clusters will have 14 mandatory components, including skill development training linked to economic activities, digital literacy, fully equipped mobile health unit, inter-village road connectivity, waste management facilities, and agro-processing units. The scheme, announced in the Budget for 2015-16, has an outlay of Rs 5,142 crore. The funding for Rurban Clusters will be through various schemes of the government converged into the cluster. The mission will provide an additional funding support of up to 30 per cent of the project cost per cluster as critical gap funding as central share to enable development of such ‘rurban clusters’,” said an official statement. The cost of developing a cluster might vary between Rs 50 crore and Rs 52 crore. The preferred mode of delivery would be through public-private-partnerships while using various scheme funds. To a query as to how many clusters would be in the poll-bound Bihar, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who hails from the state, said it would depend on the recommendations of the state government. “It's not that we are going to implement the scheme immediately. The state government would send its recommendations. Those would be discussed,” he said. Meanwhile, public-sector oil companies refrained from changing the prices of petrol and diesel, a fortnightly affair, owing to the model code of conduct for the Bihar polls.
The Mission, which was announced last year to replace the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas or PURA initiative, aims at improving the quality of people’s lives by involving the state governments. To a query as to how the new scheme is different from one executed by the UPA government, rural development minister Birender Singh said the earlier scheme “failed” because only voluntary organisations were involved. “PURA was limited to the private sector. There was no government participation in it. That is why it failed. It was planned at 13 places out of which it could not take off in four, while the results of the nine were also not good,” he said. The Mission, which is said to be modelled on a similar initiative in Gujarat, will focus on creating community assets and improving basic infrastructure such as roads, shelter, power and drinking water in rural belts. The Modi government had earlier faced criticism from the Opposition on a number of occasions for renaming the schemes including PURA launched by the UPA in the past. Under the scheme, state governments would identify the clusters in accordance with the framework for implementation prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development. The clusters will be geographically contiguous GramPanchayats with a population of 25,000 to 50,000 in plain and coastal areas and a population of 5,000 to 15,000 in desert, hilly or tribal areas. There would be a separate approach for selection of clusters in tribal and non-tribal districts. As far as practicable, clusters of villages would follow administrative convergence units of Gram Panchayats. In the Budget for 2014-15, government had announced the scheme proposing to develop rural clusters in the country with the objective of improving the quality of life of people in the cluster, bridging the rural-urban divide and reducing distress migration from rural to urban areas. The clusters will also provided citizen service centres - for electronic delivery of citizen centric services and e-gram connectivity, public transport, liquid petroleum gas connections, agri-services including storage and warehousing, sanitation, provision of piped water supply and upgraded education facilities. While announcing the scheme in the last Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had cited the example of Gujarat that has demonstrated successfully the Rurban development model of urbanisation of rural areas, through which people living in rural areas can get efficient civic infrastructure and associate services. Hailing the Modi government's initiatives for developing rural India, Prasad said that like smart cities, the government has also a concept of smart villages.