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Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016

Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission: Emerging Challenges

Monday 26 December 2016

by Mahi Pal

Since independence, in spite of implementing various programmes for rural development and improving the quality of life of the people, issues of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, sanitation and hygiene, lack of skill development, problem of connectivity have been persisting as obstacles in the development trajectory of the country.

As far as rural development is concerned, the Government of India has been implementing a fleet of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (MGNREGS) for wage employment and asset generation, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) for road connectivity, National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for self-employment and livelihood promotion, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gramin Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) for skill development and placement, Pradhan Mantri Awas Mission (PMAM) for housing, National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) for the welfare of vulnerable groups, watershed development programmes for water conservation and land record modernisation programme for digitalisation of land record, Swachch Bharat Mission for sanitation and solid/liquid waste management, National Rural Drinking Progrmme for potable water, National Rural Health Mission for health improvement, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for education for holistic development of the countryside. However, lack of engagement of people through local institutions like the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), ignoring spatial planning in creation of infrastructure and facilities and lack of convergence of various schemes/programmes have unfortunately led to these not achieving the desired impact and hence failing short to remedy the maladies like the poor standard of living, issue of rural-urban divide and migration.

It was expected that the 73rd and 74th Amend-ments to the Constitution would provide sustained institutional structure at the village, block and district levels for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice both in rural and urban areas and such plans would be consolidated at the district level by the District Planning Committee. And these, among others, would also see the spatial aspect of the plans. But with some exceptions here and there, the expected plans have not been prepared; as a result socio-economic development along with infrastructure and their spatial mapping could not take place either in the rural or urban areas.

In the late 1990s P.V. Indiresan, the former Director, IIT, Chennai, and Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, coined the concept of PURA which mainly aimed at providing unban amenities and facilities in a cluster of villages to trigger local human and economic development. In order to put the above concept into practice, the Ministry of Rural Development launched PURA in 2004 but this was drastically restructured in 2010. However, both the versions of PURA could not deliver the desired results as expected due to various reasons. After learning from the PURA failure, the Finance Minister in his Budget speech in July, 2014 announced the launch of the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) to develop the rural areas with the motto “Shahar ki Suvidha Gaon ki Atma” providing high quality urban facilities while retaining the community bond and strength of village life. This paper deals with the salient features of the SPMRM, in what way it differs from the erstwhile PURA and what are the challenges before it.

Salient Features of SPMRM

: The SPMRM aims at development of 300 rural growth clusters called ‘Rurban Clusters’. These clusters have the latent potential for growth in all the States and UTs which would trigger holistic development in the region where these are located. These clusters would be developed by provisioning economic activities, developing skills and local entrepreneurship and providing infrastructure facilities. The required amenities would be provided in these clusters through the mode of convergence of various programmes and schemes of the Centre, States and Panchayats and the deficit would be filled through the mechanism of Critical Gap Funding (CGF) under the Mission for Focused Development.


The vision of the SPMRM is to “develop a cluster of villages that preserve and nurture the essence of rural community life with the focus perceived to be essentially urban in nature, thus creating a cluster on equity and inclusiveness without compromising with the facilities perceived to be essentially urban in nature, thus creating a cluster of Rurban Villages”. In other words, it would be like a body which has a soul in the form of rural norms, cultures and community feelings and structure of flesh and bone in the form of various types of infrastructure and connectivities.

Selection of the Cluster:

A Rurban cluster would be a cluster of geographically contiguous villages with a population of about 25,000 to 50,000 in plain and coastal areas and a population of 5000 to 15,000 in desert, hilly or tribal areas. As far as practicable, clusters of villages would follow administrative convergence units of Gram Panchayats and shall be within a single block/tehsil for administrative convenience.

Mission Components:

Under the SPNRM, the State Government shall identify existing Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs), Central Sector or State Government Schemes relevant for the development of the cluster and ensure their implementation in an integrated and time-bound manner. Fourteen components have been suggested as desirable components for inclusion in the holistic development of the cluster. These components are: (i) Skill development training linked to economic activities; (ii) Agri-services and process; (iii) Digital Literacy; (iv) 24x7 Piped Water Supply; (iv) Sanitation; (vi) Solid and Liquid Waste Management; (vii) Access to village streets with drains; (viii) Village street lights; (ix) Health; (x) Upgradation of Primary, Secondary and Higher Education; (xi) Inter-village road connectivity; (xii) Citizen service centres; (xiii) Public transport; (xiv) LPG Gas Connection. If thought inappropriate, apart from the 14 components in the local context, the State Government may also include additional components for the development of the cluster. These would be finalised after due consultation with the Gram Panchayats and should aim at addressing the unique needs of the ‘Rurban Cluster’ to leverage its full economic potential.

Cluster Profile:

The existing profile of the cluster would be detailed out at two levels, namely, general profiling, which includes demography, socio-economic and administrative, and component profiling of 14 components mentioned above as envisaged under the SPMRM.

Project Funding:

The cost of a cluster will be based on the requirements identified by the Integrated Cluster Action Plan (ICAP) , prepared by the States for the cluster and approved by the Empowered Committee of the Ministry of Rural Development. A maximum of 30 per cent of the project cost will be provided as the CGF to supplement the funds mobilised through convergence of various Centrally Sponsored Schemes, Central Sector Schemes, State Sponsored Schemes and Panchayat Schemes. Further, for plain areas, the CGF will be capped at 30 per cent of the project’s capital expenditure or Rs 30 crores, whichever is less. In desert, hilly and tribal areas the CGF will be capped at 30 per cent of the project capital expenditure or Rs 15 crores, whichever is less.

Integrated Cluster Action Plan:

The Integrated Cluster Action Plan (ICAP) will be an important document covering base-line studies outlining the requirements of the cluster and the main interventions needed to address identified needs and to leverage its potential. It is expected that the State governments shall prepare the ICAPs in close consultation with the District Collectors, Zila Praishads, Panchatyati Raj Institutions and to ensure participation and ownership from all concerned stakeholders. The ICAP would be based on a five-pronged action plan, namely, (i) a strategy for the cluster integrating the vision for each Gram Sabha, identified in the cluster; (ii) the desired outcomes for the cluster under the Rurban Mission; (iii) the resources under different Central, State and Panchayat Schemes; (iv) CGF required for the cluster; and (v) a detailed spatial plan for the entire cluster.

The main component of the ICAP is deficiency analysis and identification of needs of the cluster which contains four important aspects, namely, desirable components, existing situation with regard to these components, desirable levels expected to be achieved as the outcome of the implementation of the ICAP and gaps or needs which would be worked out on the basis of the existing status and desired level with respect to the identified cluster. Component-wise it is like this. Under the skill component, it is expected that at least 70 per cent households with one beneficiary in each household be skilled and linked to economic activity. In case of digital literacy, it is desired that at least one e-literate person in every household would be trained. At least 70 litres per capita per day (Ipcd) of safe drinking water for every household throughout the year would be provided. There should be 100 per cent individual household latrines and collection of waste at household as well as cluster levels. It is also expected that all village streets are to be covered with drains, provision of street lights as per norm and ensuring inter-village connectivity. One ICT enabled and Common Service Centre per two to three villages would be provided, provision is to be made for public transport to the Block from each village and provision for one LPG retail outlet per village or per 1800 households.

Based on this exercise, the convergence of different schemes, consultation with different stakeholders, CGF and finally a Detailed Project Report would be prepared, approved and implemented.

Empowered Committee:

Under the Rurban Mission, empowered committees have been constituted at the Central, State, district levels to approve the CGF for the cluster and take other necessary decisions and steps to ensure cooperation with other Central Ministries and State governments. The State-level empowered Committee is to be chaired by the Chief Secretary, which would recommend the ICAP and DPRs will also be responsible for other key decisions for effective coordination and implementation of the schemes. At the district level, a committee would be constituted with officers of the concerned line departments and president of the concerned Gram Panchayats of the cluster.

It may be seen from the above that there is no substantial difference between the PURA and SPMRM except some changes like spatial planning, involvement of PRIs and management units for implementation of the Mission at different levels. Surprisingly, gap filling was even more in the PURA than the CGF in the present dispensation.

Difference between PURA and SPMRM:

Following are the main differences between the PURA and SPMRM:


1. Central Sector Scheme Centrally Sponsored Scheme

2. Selection of the Cluster by Private Firm Selection of the cluster by the State

3. Selected geographically contiguous GPs Selected geographically contiguous GPs with with population from 25000 to 40000 population of 25,000 to 50,000 in plain area and 5000 to 15000 in a desert, hilly, island and tribal areas

4. Convergence of existing schemes alongwith Convergence of existing schemes for delivery add on projects by the private party of integrated project based infrastructure, development of economic activities and skill development in rural areas

5. Pilot Scheme Setting up 300 growth centres

6. Grant for the viability gap in the project Critical gap funding to the extent of 30 per cent of upto 35 per cent of the project cost or the project cost or Rs 30 crores Rs 42 crore whichever is less less to the clusters to supplement the funds available to various government schemes.

7. Mandatory components of MoRD Schemes 14 components are the mandatory components and schemes of other Ministries related of the Mission. However, State may add more to telecom, street lighting, electricity, etc keeping in view of local requirement.

8. No provision for mentor institutions No provision of Mentor Institutions

9. Private party to plan the activities Involvement of community in the planning process of ICAP

10. Only couple of Inter-Ministerial Provision for setting up of Project Management Committees at the national level Unit at Centre, State, district and cluster level and nomination of nodal officer of the cluster.

Emerging Challenges

It may be seen from the above discussion that the SPMRM is expected to create an organically inter-linked economic and infrastructural drivers which would trigger fast, viable and inclusive development of a identified cluster. However, there are some challenges before the SPMRM which should be addressed immediately to materialise the intended benefits of the programme lest it proves to be the third version of the PURA.

1. The progress of the first phase of the PURA was evaluated by the then National Institute of Rural Development revealed that even three years of its implementation the concept had not been internalised by the officers who were nodal for the projects. Now, in the view of the SPMRM, it is observed that the concept of the Mission has not only been internalised by most of the officials but also by the Presidents of the Panchayats at all tiers, Gram Sabhas and other stakeholders. It appears to be a grave area as grassroots realities revealed. There is lack of clarity about the Mission at the decentralised level. The only motivation as appeared from the field is that money is coming under the Mission. It is therefore strongly recommended that awareness and capacity-building of the officials and elected representatives of Panchayats about the Mission must be organised by the competent institutions so that the Mission is not treated as an additional cog in the wheel and the focus might be changed from khadanza and padanza (lying vertical and horizontal bricks on the streets or roads). The mind-sets of different stakeholders have to be changed so that they should become catalysts and facilitators of activities envisaged under the Mission.

2. The desired institutional set-up at the State, District and cluster levels should be constituted immediately as without the support of this set-up, it would be difficult to get the support of different stakeholders in conceiving desired projects, preparation of DPRs and their implementation in a time-bound manner. The clarity among the stakeholders has to be brought as to how to go about to implement the Mission in the identified cluster. The programme has to be implemented by a dedicated team in mission mode. Depending on the line department officials who are already short of their regular work requirement is like putting the cart before the horse. Adequate funds should be earmarked for this purpose.

3. Convergence of Programmes is the base of the Mission because of the total project cost at least 70 per cent of funds have to be mobilised from the existing schemes of the Central Government and State governments or Panchayats. Convergence among the schemes of the Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation may be easily done but convergence with the schemes related to different components of the Mission is a hard nut to crack. Further, schemes of the Central Government and State governments, which are being implemented at local levels, have their different standards, norms, allocation criteria such as for vulnerable groups like SCs, STs, women, etc. In such a scenario, it is difficult to materialise convergence in the de-facto sense. It would be better if the funds earmarked under the Mission are devolved lock, stock and barrel to one institution and that may be the Panchayat Samiti (intermediate tier of the Panchayati Raj System) because the cluster is falling under its jurisdiction. The successful model of convergence should be shared with those who are the main stakeholders in the implementation of the Mission so that they have some idea of it to think and implement in local setting.

4. Gram Panchayats are the main stakeholders in the implementation of the SPMRM. As Panchayats are themselves vulnerable how can they think of innovation, convergence and spatial planning. In fact, if these institutions are strong, they themselves could prepare plans for economic development and social justice at their level. As far as spatiality is concerned, when economic development would be aiming at social justice, the spatiality angle of the plan would taken care of automatically. Hence, these institutions have to be made institutions of self-government. And for that these should be empowered functionally, financially and administratively. But here the situation is pathetic; this is evident from the fact that as per the Devolution Report 2015-16 of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj as many as in 28 States/UTs out of 32 States/UTs the devolution Index is not even 50 per cent. In nine States, the District Planning Committees are not functional. The problem is so serious that across the tiers of the Panchayats, 14 per cent of Gram Panchayats (GPs), 10 per cent of Panchayat Samitis and five per cent of district Panchayats do not have buildings to run offices. As many as 31 per cent of GPs are deprived of telephones and 58 per cent of GPs are internet-deficit. In such a situation, the Panchayati Raj is either in the personal safe of the Panchayat President or in the bag of the Panchayat Secretary. Hence, these institutions have to be made competent at their levels. Hence, it is obvious what type of role the Panchayats can play in materialising the vision and objectives of the Mission.

5. The Rurban Cluster area has to be notified as the planning area under the Town and Country Planning Act or other similar legal provision at the State level. As the Mission is an important initiative towards putting in practice the spatial planning in these clusters, relevant changes/amendments may be carried out either in the existing State Panchayat Acts or Town and Country Planning Acts so that the spatial planning will become an integral part of decentralised planning which would not only bring about proper spacing of the assets/facilities but also bring out inclusive growth and facilitate rural urban continuum. The suggestion of Professor N. Sridharan in his recent article, ‘How Rurban Mission will change face of India’, published in BW Smart Cities World in its May-June, 2016 issue, is worth considering; there he suggested a separate Spatial Planning and Spatial Data Management Ministry that can come out with the rural as well as urban development policy and strategy presently lacking in India.

To conclude, the SPMRM has been designed to create a new socio-economic system for sustain-able development in a spatial planning mode which would result in viable and pulsating growth centres across India. It is expected that the cluster of contiguous villages would access good quality of physical, social, economic, technical, knowledge, financial and social capital connectivities which would enable the cluster to optimise its growth potential. For this to happen, the challenges may be addressed urgently so that the soul of the village and amenities of urban areas may be realised under the Mission.

The author was in the Indian Economic Service. Now retired, he is presently Visiting Faculty, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Business Management, Mangalayatan University, Aligarh. He can be contacted by e-mail at: mpal1661[at]gmail.com

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