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Higher education to the aid of rural India - through technology

New Delhi, January 27: Aimed at encouraging higher education institutions to engage with problems of rural India like sanitation and hygiene, water, health and education and to provide appropriate solutions for them, the government's recently launched Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA) can lead to transformational change in the country if the technologies are "relevant, robust and affordable", experts say.

The programme was launched Nov 11, 2014, National Education Day, which also marked the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India's first education minister.

Higher education to the aid of rural India

"What is being attempted is rural development with appropriate technology intervention. To the extent that the technologies are relevant, robust and affordable, they will lead to transformational change. This is what happened with the mobile phone revolution too," Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director of IIT Madras, one of the implementing agencies, told IANS.

Elaborating, S.K. Saha, coordinator, Unnat Bharat Abhiyan Cell (UBAC) at IIT Delhi, told IANS: "The main aim is to take already developed solutions to the rural people and how to create links with them so that problems faced by them can be taken up by the IIT community as their academic problem or otherwise."

Under UBA 18 institutions of higher education have been roped in. These include IITs at Bombay, Delhi, Gandhinagar, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Indore, Jodhpur, Kanpur, Madras, Kharagpur, Mandi, Patna, Roorkee and Ropar, BHU Varanasi and also Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, and Malviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur.

"Unnat Bharat Abhiyaan will connect our institutions of higher education to develop technical solutions to address challenges in rural India," Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani said at the launch.

According to UBA's website, 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas, engaged in an agrarian economy with agriculture and allied sectors employing 51 percent of the workforce but accounting for only 17 percent of the GDP.

Each institute has adopted villages where it will work. While IIT Delhi has adopted 32 villages across Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, IIT Bombay has adopted 27 villages and IIT Madras 11 villages.

"The villages were selected based on earlier interactions with some of the faculty members of IIT Delhi. It is emphasized here that the technical solutions whenever available with any IIT will be taken to a village or a cluster of villages that have similar requirements or demands," Saha said.

Explaining how the institute will help "address development challenges through appropriate technologies", A.K. Sharma, professor of sociology and co-principal investigator of RuTAG (Rural Technology Action Group) at IIT Kanpur, told IANS: "This will be done by identifying problems in rural areas which need technical solution. However, we think that rural development requires both technical and social scientific solutions. Therefore, team work will be required."

How exactly will the model work and what will be the role of the village and IIT community?

"There is no one model for making each project work. For example, the affordable housing technology project using what has been developed by IIT M is being implemented by the Kerala government.

The rural ATM developed at IIT M is being supplied by an IIT M startup to banks operating rural branches," Ramamurthi said, explaining the work being carried out by IIT M.

The UBA also aims to foster a new dialogue within the larger community on science, society and the environment and to develop a sense of dignity and collective destiny.

While highlighting the role industries can play once the challenges are identified and solutions demonstrated, experts said that the biggest achievement of the programme would include linking knowledge to field; technology transfer and technology development; solving small technical problems of rural artisans; and interventions in education, health, irrigation, and agricultural innovations. Agreed Ramamurthi, who said: "A corollary gain will be orientation of students towards rural transformation and social enterprise."

IANS

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