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Rural malls: A way to take entertainment and commerce to rural areas and generate employment
Most of us, the educated and wealthy of modern India live in cities. These are great concrete jungles where wildlife dare not enter. The air quality is poor and heaps of garbage accumulating at street corners.
Preamble

Delhi, our capital city, is rated the sixth most polluted city in the world. But in cities, money is floating in the breeze and all and sundry are trying to grab it. Plenty of white and blue collar jobs are on offer. The top dogs live in mansions or flats, some in gated colonies with manicured lawns, club houses and swing pools, segregated from the underdogs who live in dirty crowded colonies or slums with limited access to clean water and other amenities. Some even sleep on the streets. The top dogs are rushing around in limousines to grab more and more. The underdogs are also rushing around in overcrowded buses and trains to keep body and soul together and somehow help their offspring to climb up the social order. Numerous malls, multiplexes, pubs, nightclubs, hotels and restaurants are catering to the entertainment needs of the city dwellers. 

Do we, the city dwellers, know or realize that there is another India, the rural India? It is an India that is 50 to 100 years behind in amenities and development. About 70 per cent of the people of India live there. Unseen, unheard and almost unknown, this vast diverse mass of humanity provides us with our food grains, milk, meat, vegetables and fruits, the labour to build roads, highways, buildings etc. They dig out minerals, ores and building materials. They also produce unique and amazing handicrafts for us to wear, decorate our houses with and to gift. They vote for our politicians and provide markets for our businessmen. They may be able to survive without us. But we cannot survive without them. 

However, if they move into our overcrowded cities with already crowded roads, overcrowded public transport systems and severe water shortages, it will be disaster. 

So, my readers! Please understand that it is in our best interest to keep the people of rural India where they are. Get to know them through the websites or by personal visits. We need to do all we can to make their lives better by developing rural India. In this article I suggest a way to develop rural India. Think of other ways to help them. But please do your bit.

Rural India 

Rural India is in many ways the most diverse part of the planet as 833 million people or about 68 per cent of India's population lives in rural India. They live in distinct societies, speak well over 700 languages and use 86 different scripts, some of them thousands of years old. They live in over 6,00,000 villages and small towns, most of them without piped water supply, without clean drinking water, many without electricity, without proper education and medical facilities.

Most live in their own huts and in pollution free environment. Many have a cow or a buffalo which adds milk and "ghee" to a frugal diet. Employment opportunities are few and most forms of employment are seasonal. Many commute to cities for part time or full time jobs. They have very few means of entertainment. 

Diversity characterises rural India's arts and crafts, culture, literature and legends. As rural India rushes to modernize and join the mainstream through a painful migration to cities in search of work, many of these features are disappearing, leaving our great heritage poorer. Many traditional communities who are the backbone of India's arts and crafts face collapse due to exploitation by unscrupulous middle men and for lack of marketing support. Much of what makes rural India unique heritage could be gone in 20 to30 years. There are also tyrannical, oppressive and regressive practices like untouchability, feudalism, bonded labour, extreme caste and gender oppression and exploitation, land grab etc. These practices need to be eradicated but that cannot happen without penetration of knowledge and rule of law which requires urban intervention. 

It is true that there has been significant narrowing of the gaps between rural and urban areas in the last 30 years. The narrowing has been the sharpest in education and wages. But the gap is still very large. Another interesting aspect of the change seen from 2011 census is that the rural poor appeared to have gained in prosperity in comparison to the urban poor during this period whereas the rural rich have failed to keep pace with the urban rich. 

Concept of rural mall 

A rural mall just like the urban mall will be bringing entertainment and commerce under one roof (or in one area like a permanent mela ground like the Dilli Haat). People will come there to entertain themselves and also to buy necessities or sell their products. The difference is that the urban mall caters mainly to the wealthy, but the rural malls will have to cater for the price sensitive less literate ordinary rural people. The ambience will be utilitarian rather than opulent. Specifications will be functional rather than lavish. The mall, where possible, should be located on a state or national highway so that busses and private vehicles stop there for breaks and add to the volume of sales. 

Necessity of rural malls 

Villages have a small population of 200 to 2000. The villagers have no source of entertainment except during festivals. Groceries and other daily needs are met by one or two small shops which cannot provide all necessities. The villagers have to commute to towns for many of their needs. Rural malls need to cater for a population of 10,000 to 20,000 to have economics of scale and attract shopkeepers and entertainment providers. Thus we need one rural mall for every 5 to 10 villages or a micro town. 

Components of rural malls 

A rural mall should have some or all of the following the following:

·        A cinema hall with seating for 400. To remain affordable yet profitable, they need not be air conditioned and show old movies. They could have steps instead of chairs as at stadiums.

·        A food court with one or two "dhabas" and sweet shops.

·        A shopping area with shops for daily needs, medicines, contraceptives, stationary, FMCG, garments and cosmetics and local handicrafts if any.

·        A bank with strong room, lockers and ATM.

·        An internet café to help villagers with online work and students to learn to use computers.

·        A first aid centre with chambers for a doctor and a dentist.

·        A mini daily market with stalls where farmers or small traders can sell vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and fish depending on the area and needs of the people.

·        A small entertainment park with a few rides, swings and children's play ground.

·        An area where "Thela Walas" can bring and park their "Thelas" and sell their ware.

·        A cycle stand, two wheeler stand, a car park and a few bus bays.

·        Enough pay toilets for up to 1000 people.

·        A waste/garbage disposal system. Some internet addresses of Indian manufacturers are given under bibliography.

·        Office and storage spaces. A mini cold storage could also be considered.

·        Security, conservancy and maintenance staff.

·        Fire fighting equipment.

·        A police out post.   

Investment required and financing 

The malls must be developed and run by private limited companies or in Public Private Partnership where the mall is built by the government and leased out for running to private enterprises. The total investment will depend on the location of the mall, design and specifications and has to be calculated for each site. The key is to remember the market segment that is going to use it and their needs. Politicians could use their area development funds to build the infrastructure and develop their constituencies. The rural rich with large land holdings, who are falling behind their urban counterparts could unlock the value of their land by teaming up with builders in developing and running these malls. 

Revenue expected 

Some returns will come from sale of shops but most of the revenue will be from rentals and daily collections. Rentals will come from rent for shops, banks, eateries and other facilities like rides. Daily income will come from the cinema, parking fees, pay toilets, collections from "thelewalas". 

Employment and income generation

Employment will be generated during construction and during operation. Employment generation will be of two types, direct employment and self employment. The company running the mall will require security staff, conservancy staff, parking fee collection staff, maintenance staff and office staff. The exact number will differ depending on the size of mall and services provided. Shops will also have to employ sales persons, eateries will have to employ cooks, helpers and waiters. Shop owners and "thelewalas" will be self employed. It is expected that 20 to 50 persons will find direct employment in each mall. Daily economic activity could be Rs 50,000 to a lakh. Considering India needs at least 100,000 such malls, upto 50 lakh jobs could be created in rural areas where they are needed the most. The boost to the economy will be huge.

Conclusion

Rural malls can be a boon for many. Rich politicians can put up two to three malls in their assembly constituencies. In the process they will make money and win approval of their voters. Rural rich can unlock the value of their land holdings and in association with builders start making money. Builders and property developers could acquire land in excess of the requirement for the mall, build the mall to increase the value of adjoining land and make a killing. Professionals could contribute by coming up with cost effective and environment friendly designs. Businessmen could construct the malls or associate themselves with the program and gain access of the ever growing rural market. Government agencies in charge of rural development should facilitate to process by making conversion of land use easy and by pushing banks and the police to play their part. The people of rural India will have easy access to entertainment and employment.

It will be nice if our urban elite increase their exposure to rural India by visiting relevant website, making trips to the countryside, building farm houses and farm huts and participating in its development directly or by participating in its development through PPP schemes or by contributing funds and technical knowhow to NGOs participating in rural development. As the saying goes," Give a hungry man some food, he will soon be hungry again. Teach him how to earn, help him to earn and he will never be hungry."

 

India cannot shine unless rural India also shines. Can we make rural India shine?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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