Thursday, 13 June, 2024
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OPINION

Ending Lopsided Development Approach



Uttam Maharjan

 

When it comes to the patterns of development in Nepal, it is safe to say that the development is highly skewed or lop-sided. This is because there is a tendency of centripetal development in the county, with Kathmandu and some other cities getting disproportionately concentrated development activities at the cost of the rural areas. There is no denying that without rural development, the overall development of the country cannot be even conceived of. But still, development planners and leaders hardly pay any heed to this important perspective.
The concept of rural development for all-out development is not new. The thing is the concept is highly neglected. In this context, it would not be out of place to mention the back-to-the-village campaign of the Panchayat regime. As in the past, the majority of people are still living in the rural areas. The said campaign was launched in 1967 AD in order to accelerate rural development. Under the campaign, civil servants and students used to be sent to the rural areas for development activities and educational awareness respectively. The civil servants would work in the development field, whereas the students would work as teachers in the village schools. However, the campaign was given political colour and failed to achieve the desired goals.
On the other hand, the national development service was introduced in the early 1970s. Under the program, the educated youth used to be sent to the remote hilly areas to gain insight into geographical barriers to development. Master's degree students were required to spend one year pursuing their studies by serving in the rural communities. In the process, they were able to raise awareness among the village populace. It is said that the then rulers took the program as a threat to the Panchayat system and discontinued it in 1980 AD.
Despite the Panchayat rulers being cautious in not allowing the party-less system to collapse, the system could not bear the brunt of massive popular pressure in the early 1990s, thus giving way to the multi-party democracy. The Man Mohan Adhikari government, in the mid-1990s, introduced the build-your-own-village program with objectives similar to those of the Panchayat programs. However, the program could not sustain itself due mainly to political instability at the time.
Now, the political scenario has completely changed. There is no political instability. The majority government under the leadership of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has been in place since February 2018. Moreover, there are federal, provincial and local governments under the federal framework of governance. This republican system is conducive for initiating development works at central, provincial and local levels.
It does not bear repeating that the rural areas are in a development backwaters. The migration of the rural people to Kathmandu and other urban areas has begun, especially since the Maoist insurgency (1996 to 2006 AD). During the period, the rural people had to live there carrying their life in their hands. That is why, most of them fled their home districts. The trend of such migration is still continuing. The members of parliament hailing from the rural areas esteem it a privilege to live in Kathmandu. Once they land in Kathmandu, they hardly go back to their home districts. With the passage of time, they may even forget about their home districts. When even the members of parliament or leaders neglect their home districts, how can development in the rural areas come about?
In fact, most of the rural areas are suffering from privations. Further, state facilities are concentrated in the headquarters, while other areas of the rural districts are under hardships. It is an irony that even for the treatment of a minor illness, the people have to go to the district headquarters or to Kathmandu or other cities. For higher studies, the rural students tend to go to Kathmandu and other cities. The rural youth tend to go to the urban areas like Kathmandu or abroad for a job. Now, most of the rural areas are wearing a desolate look with only the children and elders left behind, while most of the youth are out of their home districts.
It is high time the government prioritised rural development. As provincial and local governments are in place in the rural areas as well, such governments in collaboration with the federal government should initiate development programs targeting at rural development. The generation of employment opportunities by creating a business environment in the rural areas will help retain the youth in the rural areas. Further, the establishment of health facilities in the rural areas with provision for an adequate number of medical practitioners, including specialists, will obviate the need for the rural people to visit Kathmandu and other cities for medical treatment.
If the government is continuing to neglect the need for development in the rural areas, such areas will be more and more desolate, while Kathmandu and other well-appointed cities will have to bear an explosive demographic pressure. The myriad problems Kathmandu is facing now are mainly due to the migration of people in large numbers from outside the Kathmandu Valley.
So the present government should make rural development the focus of development planning. The rural provincial and local governments should pay assiduous attention to embarking upon development activities relating to healthcare, education, transport, employment, sanitation and other aspects designed for the uplift of the living standard of the people living in their areas. By speeding up rural development, lop-sided development can be eliminated to a large extent.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at uttam.maharjan1964@gmail.com)