Kora in Tumkur district sits on either side of a highway that cuts through the village’s houses, businesses, and farmlands.
Situated 12km away from Tumkur, Kora looks like any typical village in India except that it’s sprawled on both sides of a busy highway. A high-raising parallel wall separates the villagers of Kora from easily accessing their farmlands, milk dairy, market, bank, etc.
The only connection is that of a dingy, eight feet wide subway through which villagers struggle to take their scooters, cattle, etc.
While Kora’s school children remain the most frequent users of the subway, elderly men on their bicycles have to ride a little more than a kilometre to access an underpass.
Housing around 3,000 people, the village also has a Grameen Bank, a primary school, a primary health centre, Gram Panchayat and even a water purification centre equipped with Reverse Osmosis (RO) technology. We looked into the many aspects that ensures how a vibrant rural life thrives in this unique village.
It’s late noon when I enter the Kaveri Grameen Bank located in Kora. Even as the manager greets me, I observe how a few villagers are busy conversing with the women employees at the bank.
Established in accordance with the 1975 Regional Rural Bank guidelines, the Kaveri Grameena Bank was set up in Kora thirty years ago, to primarily aid in better implementation of government schemes. Gradually having opened to financing, the bank today holds four to five thousand accounts of people from surrounding villages.
According to the manager of the bank, "Wide publicity for schemes like Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana and Direct Benefit transfer (DBT) for LPG and MG-NREGA-related transactions has led to an increasing number of rural population opting to open bank accounts”.
Kora’s Kaveri Grameen Bank has roughly about 500-1000 Jan-Dhan accounts apart from having given agricultural loans amounting to 24 crore. As the manager explains,
Though we charge an interest rate of 7 percent, the number of farmers who have defaulted on agriculture loans has increased due to repeated droughts in the region. Even the ones capable of repaying sometimes default owing to successive governments that promise on farm loan waivers.
Apart from agriculture loans, the bank also lends for educational purposes, housing and to Self Help Groups (SHG) in need. However, despite immediate banking facilities, a few villagers opt for deceitful microfinance groups, unreliable pawnbrokers, and local moneylenders who charge high interest rates from villagers who borrow money to meet personal and medical emergencies.
Though DBT has significantly decreased tampering, pilferage and illegal tendering of money in important transactions, the exploitation by microfinance institutions which promise increased borrowings with no collateral in a hassle-free manner are a rage across many rural villages.
The savings rate among people in rural areas is still very less. Since they are tied down by too many social obligations, only 25 percent of them manage to save something, opines the manager, who also informs that about 100 people in Kora use ATM cards while 10-20 also avail net banking services.
Dairy and water facilities
It’s almost dusk and scenes of people from all ages walking/riding up to the village’s Nandini Dairy for selling their daily yield of milk are commonplace.
Many elderly people clad in khaki shorts walk in and out of the small diary shop emptying cans of milk mostly carried on bicycles and motorcycles. The village dairy buys milk from villagers at an approximate cost of 24 rupees though the selling price (post pasteurization and other treatments) is 34 rupees.
A computerised system allows the diary people to measure fat content and determine the price of milk in a fair manner.
Sixty-year-old Shivanna sells about 3-4 litres of milk every day. When asked if the proceeds benefit him, he complains,
It’s hardly anything compared to the money I have to invest in cattle fodder, vaccination and maintenance of my two cows.
The newly opened RO water purification plant of about 20,000 litre capacity sells water to villagers at rupees two per litre, which most people carry on motorcycles again. I inquire if all villagers have motorcycles at home to which the villagers around calmly reply, “The ones who do not own one, borrow from others and instead get them water in return as a goodwill gesture.”
Problems and changing rural markets
“Bridge illa (no bridge),” is the first grievance that Suresh Appajaya lists when I ask him about the most common issues of villagers in Kora. With many farmlands concentrated on one side of the highway, villagers have an issue crossing the road every time to visit their fields either for work or for grazing their cattle.
The only connection is the subway which the elderly, women and children find it difficult after dark, he says.
According to Suresh, an over bridge like the ones in railway stations will help in easier crossing of the road.
I also speak to 12-year-old Arun, still in his school uniform, anxiously waiting to see Vinay, a youngster who runs a photocopy shop and also works as a village representative for 1Bridge, a last mile services platform that delivers a range of products to rural consumers.
“I’m here to buy an iPad from Vinay Anna,” says Arun pulling out a hundred rupee note. Vinay later clarifies how the fifth grader intended to buy a small MP3 players that stores all songs. Vinay also reiterates about the rapidly evolving demands of rural markets,
The bestselling products in our village are smartphones like MI and Lava.
1Bridge is a social enterprise whose unique business model brings products and services to the doorstep of ‘ruban’ (rural urban) consumers. In a recently concluded two-day trip called the 'RubanomiCx Express', it took a group of people belonging to various startup ecosystems on a rural bus journey touring villages across Tumkur and Mandya districts in Karnataka.