The rural landscape has changed quite dramatically in the past decade. There are roads where there were none earlier. Even now, heavy earth moving machines drill through jagged cliffs and mountains, paving roads that will connect even the most far-flung village settlements in the country. There are schools, BHUs, and RNR centers. The recent inclusion is the community center that functions as a one-stop window providing a myriad of government-to-citizens services.
Life in the villages has certainly changed for the better. Ask any rural villager who have lived through extreme hardship and drudgery all their life about the change, most often the answer is an honest expression of gratitude to the benevolent monarchs and the government for lifting them out from the depths of poverty and making their lives better.
While so much has happened in recent years, sadly, many have already left the villages for urban towns to escape the harsh reality of rural life. Those who have stayed back holding on to their ancestral land, depending on agriculture for a living, lament the inevitable consequences of this migration that is fast emptying rural communities of its most important element – people.
Earlier, the primary driver of rural-urban migration was scarcity of development and its attendant hardships. While this is still a reason big enough, the more pressing issue is human-wildlife conflict that continues to add to their misery. Many months of their hard work are rendered futile within a night of reckless predation by wild animals. Against such hardships, it is only a natural human instinct and response to look for better opportunities for survival. And we have all been a witness to how rural folks have responded to this problem.
Not all is gloom and doom though. In recent years, some villages have seen a reversal of the trend. People who have moved out are returning to their native home. The reason is simple. Villages have developed or are developing and now have basic modern amenities. Life in the urban towns is difficult as well and only those who can afford can survive. And those who cannot are gradually returning.
This is a positive trend and the government can capitalize on this by accelerating socioeconomic development in rural pockets. There are two major issues that need to be addressed – human-wildlife conflict and creation of economic opportunities to improve rural livelihoods.
Electric fencing has seen a moderate level of success in keeping away the wild animals. The testimony of this success comes from those villages that have been entirely fenced with electric fencing. To that extent that wildlife predation and destruction of crops and livestock have been reduced by a huge margin. If electric fencing is the most feasible solution to keep wild animals at bay, it is only logical that the government should spend more on it. The upside of it is that farming communities do not have to engage in non-farming activities to supplement household income. This would also contribute to the national objective of food security and self-sufficiency.
There is also a strong need to create economic opportunities in rural areas, firstly to curb rural-urban drift and secondly to attract those living in towns back in the villages. Economic opportunities can come in the form of commercial agriculture, livestock rearing, indigenous art and crafts, eco-tourism, etc.
In fact, a lot of such projects are already being implemented in many parts of rural areas. All it requires is more thrust and investment to make it work. And that can happen only with political will and conviction. Eventually, as it appears, what attracted people out of the villages will only make them return.