Enhancing Nagaland's Rural Services

Moa Jamir

The "Survey on Local/Block Level Statistics 2023" offers a comprehensive view of the availability of basic amenities in Nagaland's villages but also presents insights into existing disparities. The survey, by the Directorate of Economics & Statistics, presented the status as of March 31, 2023, in 1285 villages recognised by the Rural Development Department, revealing significant achievements alongside notable deficiencies in infrastructure and services.

According to the survey, Nagaland has made commendable strides in electrification and road connectivity, with an impressive 99.5% electrification and only five villages without electricity. Road connectivity is nearly universal, with just one village lacking access. Furthermore, mobile network service reaches all villages, a critical step toward bridging the digital divide and facilitating access to information and services.

The presence of Anganwadi centres in 95.4% of villages is a positive indicator of support for early childhood development while facilities such as public toilets (60.5%) and PHED water supply (94%) indicate a reasonably good level of basic sanitation and water services.

However, the survey also uncovers substantial gaps in higher education, healthcare, and financial services. The availability of higher educational institutions is alarmingly low, with just 1.9% of villages having government higher secondary schools and a mere 0.23% hosting government colleges. Additionally, a total of 1151 villages have government primary schools, while 257 villages have government middle schools and 252 villages have government high schools.

Healthcare facilities are similarly inadequate. While 40.5% of villages have sub-centres (SCs), only 10.6% have primary health centres (PHCs), and just 1.4% of villages have community health centres (CHCs). Private healthcare options are also sparse, with only 2.2% of villages having private clinics or hospitals. Financial services are another critical area of concern. Only 1.79% of villages have access to bank and ATM facilities, restricting economic activities and access to credit, which are vital for rural development.

Additionally, public transport was severely lacking with access to government and private bus services respectable at only 6.6% and 21%.  The postal services also cover 39.6% of villages.

However, these deficiencies must be interpreted in context. According to the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS), sub-centres (SCs) are meant to serve around 3000 people in hilly areas, not necessarily each village. Similarly, PHCs and CHCs are intended for populations of 20,000 and 80,000, respectively, with PHCs acting as referral units for six SCs and CHCs for four PHCs.

With 520 SCs, 137 PHCs, and 19 CHCs, Nagaland's healthcare infrastructure seems adequate. However, the state faces a significant shortage of health professionals. The Rural Health Statistics in India 2021-22 report by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare indicates that out of 84 specialist doctors required; only 7 were in position, a 91.66% shortfall. There are also shortages of radiographers, pharmacists, and laboratory technicians at PHCs and CHCs. Given past trends, this situation likely persists, though the survey did not provide such details.

Thus, Nagaland should focus more on providing the required professionals at health centres rather than establishing more under-staffed centres, thereby enhancing access to quality healthcare and improving overall health outcomes.

Furthermore, although the availability of higher secondary schools and colleges is low, it is important to understand that such government institutions are typically established at the sub-division, block, or district level, while private institutions are guided by commercial considerations. The focus should be on ensuring that the foundational aspects of schooling are provided with quality education.

Elsewhere, while near-universal road connectivity is prevalent, the crucial factor lies in the quality of these roads rather than just their presence.

The survey has highlighted both advancements and urgent requirements for intervention in essential areas. Policymakers and stakeholders need to assess both the improvements made and the disparities in crucial services, addressing these gaps through targeted policies and interventions.

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