Poor health, education infrastructure adding to region’s backwardness, say experts; locals’ demand for university, railway connectivity with Delhi remains unfulfilled
“It’s a paradox,” remarked Ajay Pandey, Chief Executive Officer, S M Sehgal Foundation, a non-government organisation, reacting to Nuh (earlier Mewat) figuring at the bottom of the Niti Aayog’s recent list of 101 most backward (or “aspirational” as termed in the report) districts in the country.
“Just two hours’ drive from Delhi and sharing its border with IT hub Gurugram, Nuh still happens to be the most backward district in India. It is a real paradox,” continued Mr. Pandey.
However, having worked in Nuh for close to two decades now, Mr. Pandey, a law professor, is not surprised at all.
Severe water crisis
“It is largely neglected when it comes to governance,” said Mr. Pandey, adding that though the effective implementation of government programmes and schemes was not to be seen anywhere across the country, the “poor literacy rate” and “severe water crisis” made things more difficult in this region, mostly dominated by the Muslim Meo population.
“The availability of water for drinking and irrigation purpose is a major issue in Nuh. The water is highly saline making it unfit both for drinking and irrigation,” said Mr. Pandey.
“We found several villages with female literacy rate as low as 6% when we started working in this region several years ago. Though the situation has improved a lot, the health and education infrastructure is in a shambles,” he claimed.
Running a community radio station, “Alfaz-e-Mewat”, for over six years now, Mr. Pandey explained that the locals are reluctant to move out of the area for education and jobs, reducing opportunities for them and contributing to the backwardness.
Subhash Goel, a research scholar-cum-academician, recently interviewed 450 people from 15 villages of the district’s five blocks — Nuh, Nagina, Punhana, Taoru and Ferozpur Jhirkha — as part of his research work, and emphasised “poor connectivity” and “lack of industrial policy” among others as major reasons for the backwardness of the region.
“The state government does not have any concrete industrial policy for the region, though it is easily approachable from Delhi/NCR. It has led to unemployment in this district. Rural development schemes namely MGNREGA, NRHM, Skill India, Digital India etc. failed to have any positive impact on socio-economic conditions of the region due to lack of information and education. People here still do not have access to television, radio and computer because of lack of skill, knowledge and electricity,” said Dr. Goel.
He pointed out that women in the region had expertise in handicraft work like weaving of daris, gudari, shawls and other traditional craft, but the State government had not promoted handicraft industry in Nuh.
Based on 49 indicators from five identified thematic areas, namely education, health, agriculture, financial inclusion and skill development and basic infrastructure, Nuh has finished at the bottom of the table with a score of just 26.02%.
The two major contributors to Nuh’s dismal score are its poor ratings in health and education sectors, together contributing 60% of the overall index. Nuh finishes at 94th and 99thspot in sector-wise ranking for health and education respectively.
No wonder then, only 27.3% children between the age group of 6-59 months have received vaccination in the district and a whopping 69.5% have anaemia.
The female literacy rate, as per 2011 census, is just over 36% and dropout rate for upper primary level is over 12%.
No doctors, medical staff
“The health centres do not have doctors and paramedical staff. There are no drivers for ambulances. A large number of posts for teachers are lying vacant. Though there is a scarcity of teachers across Haryana, it affects Nuh the most as there are only a few private schools in the district. A majority of the population is dependent on government-run schools for education,” said a senior bureaucrat, who served at Nuh for more than a year.
Thanks to the poor education infrastructure, he added, hardly a thousand people in Nuh were in government jobs even though 90% of the population was in the Centre and State’s OBC list.
“The previous government had created a separate cadre for Mewat schoolteachers, but most of the teachers have now got transferred outside the district because of relaxation in rules,” said the official.
The locals have been demanding a university and railway connectivity with Delhi for many years now.
“The demand for a university in Nuh was first made by late Chaudhary Rahim Khan, a Member of Parliament, in 1983, but for the past three decades the locals have only got assurances from the political parties. The setting up of a university would benefit over 60 lakh population of Mewat region, spread across Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Similary, better railway connectivity would mean more job opportunities for the youth and access to markets outside Nuh for the farmers,” said Hamara Adhikar Morcha convenor Mohammad Younus Alvi, spearheading the campaign for the twin demands.
A Mewat Development Board with the Chief Minister as its chairman was set up in 1980 for the overall social and economic development of the region, but it has proved to be unsuccessful.
Mr. Pandey said that the recent Niti Aayog report was an opportunity for the region as it would draw the attention of all stakeholders. “It is a small district with a population of over 11 lakh, as per the 2011 census, and just 400 odd villages and things can improve in a short time. As a way forward, the corporates in the neighbouring Gurugram should come forward to contribute for the development of the region. The emphasis should be on building health and education infrastructure and providing drinking and irrigation water to start with,” said Mr. Pandey.