In the past, human settlements, both in rural and urban areas, had grown in an evolutionary manner. In this century, the forces of industrial development have accelerated the growth rate of urban settlements. This raises organized efforts for planned development of urban areas.
Nowadays, urban planning paradigms have been coterminous with the paradigms for industrial development. As a consequence, the present urban planning principles and techniques being applied to the development of human settlements have little impact on rural settlements which are, by definition, agricultural in nature.
Whatever organized effort has been made to develop the built environment of rural settlements (villages and hamlets) the emphasis has been on providing a downgraded version of urban services; like metalled roads, electric supply, piped water supply, and urban-style buildings to meet the requirements of dwellings, schools, and other community facilities. Villagers have found it hard to make satisfactory use of these efforts at ‘planned development’. Furthermore, these facilities cannot be properly maintained on account of their inappropriateness, leading to a huge loss to the national exchequer.
Rural settlement planning needs to be approached from a fresh viewpoint. The built environment of villages has a much closer relationship with the natural cycles of climate, topography, and materials than is the case with cities. Building construction in rural areas is also affected by the availability of skilled artisans. Building artisans from rural areas have been migrating in large numbers to cities to look for more lucrative work. It is very clear that unless the present conditions relating to building development in rural areas are reformulated, there will be continued degradation of the rural built environment which will inevitably lead to social dysfunction as well.
Rural settlements require the application of specialized expertise as much as cities do. The planning and design of roads, drains, sewerage, water supply, electrification, telecommunication, and other infrastructural services needs to be oriented specifically for rural conditions. The materials and construction techniques appropriate to patterns of village life need to be clearly studied and optimized.
Physical and cultural conditions across the country are extremely varied; from high mountains, to big river basins, to deserts, to coastal areas, to rain forests, to the highlands of the Deccan plateau, and to the islands of the Andamans group as well as the Lakshadweep group. It is therefore inadvisable to attempt broad generalizations regarding village planning. Some environmental surveys of rural settlements have been attempted by schools of architecture in different parts of the country. These could be useful in developing a database specific to rural settlements. Further coordinated effort to record and evaluate the conditions of existing villages will provide a realistic basis for policy formulation. This could generate an appropriate and sustainable development paradigm for rural settlements.
Some prototypical project can also be taken up in selected villages across the country. These would be a crucial testing ground for refining policy guidelines, and they would become important demonstration exercises to build confidence and involve the local communities in reviving and reconstructing the rural environment.