Over two-thirds of India’s population lives in rural areas, and rural poverty remains a significant policy concern. Many people migrate from India’s rural to urban areas in search of better economic opportunities. Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA), was a rural development public-private-partnership program, which took a holistic approach to provide more services and opportunities to India’s hardest to reach areas.
The Hard to Reach
Rural Indians without access to urban services and opportunities.
Despite its innovative design, PURA never made it past its pilot phase. Although PURA was unsuccessful, there are still several key takeaways from the research.
- The PURA experience was marked by the Indian government’s internal inefficiencies. The program was only successful in limited, piecemeal circumstances. States were reluctant to relinquish their autonomy over development projects that eliminated their power to influence and benefit from these processes and meant they would receive a smaller budget for use in projects that could ensure their re-election. PURA teaches us the importance of considering that actors will lose with reforms, and if there is any way of compensating them for such losses.
- A private entity may have been more effective than other PURA initiatives because it was not led by or dependent on dysfunctional bureaucracies. This ability to bypass dysfunctional government institutions can allow for greater speed and efficiency in service delivery. It also insulates initiatives from being directly influenced by a change in government or by other political pressures.
- Where PURA projects have succeeded, there has been an individual, group, or institution that has firmly dedicated itself to that initiative. A lack of continuity in leadership appears to be a common reason that PURA and other development projects cease to operate in India. Sustaining ownership over a project for an extended time, even when leadership shifts, is an important component of a successful long-term initiative.
- Strong top-down leadership may not be sufficient in many instances—community empowerment is also key to success. Interviewees repeatedly stressed that “bottom-up” initiatives driven by local populations that are sensitive to their specific needs tend to have greater impact.
This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from those we met and interviewed in India.
This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.