IITs & NITs transforming rural India through Unnat Bharat Abhiyan
Samiksha Jain, 26 Apr 2018

A silent revolution is on in India’s hinterland with 1200 engineering graduates from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs) taking up teaching in engineering colleges located in the remote areas. The initiative has been taken up under Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) III for improving the quality of engineering graduates at a cost of Rs. 2,300 crores and will be implemented in a three-year period till 2020. This is not the first time that IITs and NITs are supporting the government to bridge the rural-urban divide. Apart from TEQIP, another talked about initiative of IITs/NITs is Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA).

The UBA programme was launched in collaboration with IITs, NITs and other leading government engineering institutes. The UBA mission is to connect the institutes of higher education with local communities and to address the development challenges of rural India through participatory processes and appropriate technologies for accelerating sustainable growth.

“UBA is a programme of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Government of India. The primary aim of the programme is to leverage the technological know-how of the premier institutions of the country for development of the rural milieu,” says Prof. Ajit Kumar Chaturvedi, Director, IIT Roorkee.


How UBA works

Under the UBA project, the students and various representatives of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) interact with local rural bodies and communities in selected village clusters and provide knowledge inputs into the Gram Panchayat development plans. “Every problem is first identified, ideas brainstormed with the team and faculty mentors; a solution model is then prepared and executed with the help of the village administration and finally feedback assessment sessions are conducted. This way, every initiative is seen through to the end and the synergy of the dynamic structure bring out the best results,” said Prof. Chaturvedi.


Adopting villages under UBA

UBA started at IIT Kanpur (IITK) in July 2017, with the adoption of five villages in the vicinity of the institute. The idea for adopting village is to make them model villages and ensure that various government schemes are implemented in the village. Since July, UBA IITK team has worked on improving the sanitation condition of villages, has done data collection (household level), education and composting.“UBA IITK works with NSS students (80 students of 1st year), and a large number of volunteers comprising students, staff, faculty and campus community. There are teams that are assigned different tasks. Four programmes related to education through which nearly 100 villagers are connected to IIT Kanpur. We are hopeful this will bring a qualitative improvement in the level of education,” said Manindra Agrawal, Officiating Director of IIT Kanpur.


Overcoming Challenges

For IITs and NITs, educating rural folks and bridging the divide is not at all a smooth road. The biggest challenge these institutes face is the cultural gap between the residents and the team. “There was initially an information vacuum between the two, which is soon overcome as the team built rapport through regular interactions with the village administration and through the education initiative - with the students - which ensures that our roots are embedded into theirs,” said IIT Roorkee Director.  

Another major issue is the lack of resources that restricts the implementation of large scale technology in the target areas.

“The UBA programme should become part of the govt programme. The UBA IITK representatives should be part of block/district level committees of rural development, then only they will know how to get programmes converged into the villages they are working in. The biggest challenge is earning the trust of villagers, which takes time. The lower level of bureaucracy is quite reluctant to work with IITK as their corrupt practices get exposed. Students are short of time, and it is difficult to fit programmes especially when they have to visit villages,” said Officiating Director of IIT Kanpur.


UBA as a problem solver

UBA IIT Roorkee functions by identifying problems in the adopted villages and subsequent implementation of feasible and sustainable solutions. It has adopted two village clusters (four villages in each cluster) and one stand-alone village. The team works across various themes such as education, sustainable energy, planning and employment, clean water, agriculture and women health and empowerment.

“The varied range of interaction with officials of high ranks gives the students a lot of exposure which helps in personality development and boosts self-confidence. UBA IIT Roorkee is also a completely student-governed body, hence, all the major decisions are also taken by the students. All the activities, meetings, village visits and initiatives are documented properly, thus creating an orderly repository of all the work done by UBA since inception along all the stages. UBA also organizes workshops, lecture series and outreach programmes with other educational institutions to increase networking and the ambit of functioning,” said Prof. Chaturvedi.

IIT Hyderabad, as a part of Unnat Bharat Abhiyan, under the co-ordination of Dr. Shashidhar, Department of Civil Engineering, has adopted five tribal villages, that is, Bujarampet, Ananthram, Kannaram, Salabhatpur and Mohamed Nagar of Kowidipally Mandal of Medak.

“Faculty and students extensively visit the villages to create awareness in school children, teachers and villagers. To motivate the students towards the rural development, IIT Hyderabad has introduced one credit UBA independent project course,” said Dr. Sashidhar.

Programmes like UBA will help the people of rural areas to get equipped with new technologies which can help bridge the gap between urban and rural India. With this belief, the students of IITs and NITs are working wholeheartedly toward this initiative to give their contribution towards building a brighter India.

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