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Sustainability for development

Sustainability for development

September 5, 2017

Rajender Bisht

The buzz word "sustainable" has become a word that is now being echoed in every walk of life. This word has become the magnet of all the discussions around the globe. From UN forums to current budget in India, the word has become the development agenda. A few decades back the social science community, activists and environmentalists, were blamed for its excessive use to blackmail big business houses, but now nothing gets escaped in public without the use of this word.

In the context of rural India, the term is not new but it is now catching up day by day. Since Independence, rural India has been largely isolated from the mainstream development agenda. Even though the first few five year plans were dedicated to rural masses but all had only the agriculture at the focus and rest everything was left languishing. Hence, for years, there wasn't any prominent notion which projected the convergence on sustainability and rural development.

So when it all did start? Broadly the accepted theories of ‘Sustainable Rural Development' popped-up after the success of the liberalization of trade in the early 1990's. The huge success of private entrepreneurs, businesses and especially the escalating boom in the IT sector paved way a new development path in urban India. The cities grew at a staggering rate and many new cities came into existence like Gurgaon, Bengaluru. These cities attracted talents from all around the country and became a major hub for entrepreneurs and businesses. Like erstwhile Bombay, these cities were also flooded with unskilled workers seeking employment.

In this entire development spree, rural India was entirely left untouched. It was still practising the same old traditional farming methods, prevalent caste structure, and still, a big part was living under the cloud of poverty. Every hour a child was dying due to hunger, mothers were dying due to early age pregnancy complexities and only a few had the luxury to buy a television. After much of hue and cry from activists and coercion from external agencies, the government finally had to shift its attention from an urban-centric approach to decentralizing power in rural India. This lead to the genesis of the term ‘rural development[C4] ’. To complement it, the government also realized the ill effects of its earlier development activities which lead to deterioration of flora and fauna. During the past decades, increasing environmental awareness and progressive acknowledgement of the complex, imperfectly known and predictable interaction between economy, ecology, and society, generated the notion of ‘sustainable development' (Pugliese, 2001). It propelled a need to optimally utilize the resources without exploiting nature, hence the term sustainable rural development came into existence in the country.

Sustainable rural development defines as a process of multidimensional change affecting rural systems (Polidori and Romano, 1996). "Economic growth complementing the improvement in the social condition and conservation of natural values are all equally important features in the sustainable rural development"(Pugliese, 2001). All the development endeavours have to move in by balancing social, economic and environmental factors. As said by the former President Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam that villages have to become a powerhouse if India aspires to become a world superpower. Exploitative growth won't suffice for long. All activities in rural India to align themselves with a larger goal of sustainability like re-conceptualizing the style of farming i.e. a gradual shift from chemical-intensive to more natural like organic. A model of co-evolution with nature has to be adopted.

In light of this consideration, the convergence of sustainability and rural development can be further comprehensively described by focusing on four interlinking concepts: innovation, conservation, participation, and integration. These are four cornerstones of a sustainable rural India.


It is a positive force of change to revitalize rural India. Like another sector, innovation has a huge role to play in alleviating people out of poverty ratchets and transform their lives. Methods have to be devised to innovate in coherence with nature and not against it. The prodigious ideation of microfinance named ‘Grameen Bank' in Bangladesh brought a revolution in the uplift of the rural sector in their country. Similarly, iconic watershed management projects across the country are prime examples of intelligent growth. Technology, which has a high potency to transform the world, needs to cater to the rural masses. The government’s attempt to increase transparency through the Digital India campaign is laudable, but it first has to address the fundamental issue of education. Education will make an individual more aware about his/her relationship with the environment. Technological inputs in a blend with education will certainly pave the way to a better and happier tomorrow.


Any development in rural India cannot sustain itself until and unless it coexists with the ecosystem around it. The development needs to be well-rooted in the area in which it takes place, through the use and enhancement of local resources (Pugliese, 2001). In India, there have been many movements to conserve the environment in rural pockets from the clutches of big businesses. But most of these have been trampled down in the name of national interest. In rural Jharkhand, people have been evicted from their lands multiple times to extract minerals. And the misery is further aggravated by poor implementation of resettlement and rehabilitation policies forcing these people to join Naxal groups. Here we need inspirational examples like "Chipko Movement" of Uttarakhand, wherein the local people rescued their holy forest from the misconduct of [C6] outsiders. Conservation must be at the core of rural development to be sustainable with nature.


The 73rd and 74th amendments of Panchayat Raj Institutions, also known to be a watershed improvement in the governance model of Indian democracy. It allowed for devolution of power and shifted from trickledown effect to a wise bottom-up approach. The rural populace must exercise their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution and they have to play an active role in the governance model. All the government programs need to be closely evaluated by beneficiaries since these are for their development. This way they can help in sustaining a good GDP growth. The failures of programs are due to failures of people to challenge the corrupt government structure. It is in the interest of the local people to participate not only in the environmental conservation (as mentioned above) but to also scrutinize the services offered by the government. NGOs can play a pivotal role in mobilizing people not only towards environmental and social factor but also towards gross corruption practices. This leads to the [C7] sustainability of government-run programs automatically increases with the time and leakages are well controlled.


The development of rural India is not just the prerogative of a single ministry or it has to be an integration of many development agencies. Every department must work in coordination with other functionaries. The biggest lacunae of rural development programs are a lack of association in collaborative working between different arms of government. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture promotes good cropping by giving sops, whereas the Ministry of Environmental conservation and climate change is bothered about deforestation in rural areas but there isn't any synergy between these two departments. Hence the farmer will never be able to relate the harmful effects of fertilizers on the soil. [C8] The need of the hour is the integration of all the departments when plans are laid out rural India. Moreover, through these interventions, governments must also concatenate[C9] social and environmental issues. The holistic growth will ensure that all the wheels of development are accelerating at the same pace.


Conscious efforts need to be taken based upon the aforementioned points. Features like market linkages, collective decision making, and traditional methodology of consumption must be encouraged in rural India. All stakeholders need to properly play their role and simultaneously evaluate others to grow in a parallel way. We need to foster a holistic development if rural India has to grow sustainably. The philosophy of "Jugaad" has to be encouraged for pro-environmental development model. This is the way we all might foresee a vibrant and sustainable development of rural India.



Pugliese, P. (2001). Organic Farming and Sustainable Rural Development: A Multifaceted and Promising Convergence. Sociologia Ruralis, 411), 112–130.

Polidori, R. D. Romano (1996). Agricoltura e sviluppo, dattiloscritto, lavori preparatori di ‘Agricola 96' Conferenza Provinciale dell'Agricoltura, Firenze 18 november



Rajendra Bisht (

Jubilant Foundation


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