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IITs to help promote sustainable rural development

Livemint:  September, 2014

New Delhi: The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will work closely with the human resource development ministry and a few others to promote sustainable development in rural India, under a scheme called Unnat Bharat, the IITs said.

Under the scheme, the premier technology institutes will focus on improving sanitation and e-governance, and on promoting organic agriculture, alternative sources of energy and village entrepreneurship.

The IITs are joining hands with at least four ministries-human resource development, rural development, agriculture and science and technology.

The IITs have met HRD minister Smriti Irani and will meet other ministry officials soon to finalize the road map. A national-level workshop has already been organized at IIT- Delhi to discuss the priority areas for the Unnat Bharat scheme.

"We are trying to address the problem in rural India through technology push, helping grassroots organizations in innovating new products, and support rural entrepreneurs to develop neighbourhood solutions," said V.K. Vijay, a professor at the Centre for Rural Development and Technology at IIT-Delhi and one of the programme coordinators for the scheme.

This development comes on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech where he spoke about providing basic facilities to villages, urging parliamentarians to adopt and develop a model village in their constituencies.

In the Union budget too, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had made several provisions for promoting rural entrepreneurship. The budget has made a provision of Rs.200 crore to establish a technology centre network that will promote innovation and entrepreneurship in agri business, and another Rs.100 crore for a rural entrepreneurship scheme.

Vijay said that all top technical institutions and agricultural universities will be asked to support the Unnat Bharat scheme. The IIT systems will be the nodal body and hand-hold other top institutions for the job.

"Our students and teachers can spend time in developing products and technology that can be beneficial to villages," said Vijay, adding that older IITs have rural technology action groups and these can be made more active to make the mission a success.

"We can have such departments in all the top technical institutions. Initially, 50 top institutions can join hands and then hundreds more can join in," he said.

India has 16 IITs and six new ones are being set up.

Overall, in a couple of years, such rural development departments can function from over 300 institutions, said Vijay. He said that the areas which have been discussed include technology infusion in health and education delivery, providing alternate energy such as solar power to rural areas, and helping increase organic produce. The IITs will also help in developing technology for low-cost toilets, improving sanitation facilities by providing help to grassroot organizations, and helping e-governance initiatives.

HRD ministry officials said that the ministry is quite optimistic about the move and after Modi's 15 August speech, it has almost become a priority.

"The ministry is mooting to have a cell on how to leverage educational institutes to help rural India. The (HRD) minister has already said that she supports opening rural development courses in top universities and technical colleges," said a ministry official, requesting not to be named.

Vijay said that joining hands with other ministries will also benefit the institutions in getting sponsored research projects. Such projects will provide a revenue boost to institutions, while benefiting rural communities.

Gautam Barua, a former director of IIT-Guwahati, said that roping in more institutions to help rural people will be a good move and several government departments joining hands will give more weight to the mission.

"But government has to think that how it can reward professors and students who will get involved in these projects. When there is a huge pressure on improving the global ranking of IITs, produce more research papers and better their citations, devoting a good amount of time for rural development needs motivation," said Barua.