Monday, August 29, 2011

What do you know about village life?

As posted on

A couple weeks ago we surveyed readers like you to see what your perceptions were of rural India with regards to mobility and connectivity. We also wanted to get a sense for how different your own behaviour and access is from the villagers. We asked you to guess different parameters about infrastructure and behaviours in the region of Vadipatti (i.e. Vadipatti Taluk excluding the town) which is in central Tamil Nadu. Whoah! you guys were way off. Most of you guessed that the villagers had less access, mobility and connectivity compared to you but you just didn’t realize HOW MUCH less. Here are the results:

Who answered the surveys

125 people answered this survey online. 75% were from the major Indian cities. Of this half were from Chennai which is the closest major city to Vadipatti Taluk and the rest spread out across Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. 10% were from Western Europe and the United States and 5% were from small towns in India. In Vadipatti we surveyed 1000 people across 125 villages of which 540 were entrepreneurs running a business.

The results

Excluding the town of Vadipatti there are 10 petrol bunks in Vadipatti Taluk which is 1 per 20 to 25 square km. Most of you underestimated the number of petrol bunks. Your median guestimate was 3 petrol bunks and average was 7. A large number of you guessed that your city had 100 Petrol Pumps (Median value). Your average guestimate was 340. For Chennai for instance, which is 164 sq km your median guess is that there is 1 per 1.6 sq km which is around 15 times the density. This means a villager in Vadipatti Taluk has to travel about 15 times as far as you do to get petrol.

Excluding the town of Vadipatti, on average, a person has to wait 3 hours for a bus (This assumes a 12 hour wait for villages with no bus service). If we exclude villages with no bus, the wait is 2 hours. Most of you grossly overestimated the bus frequency. A large number of you estimated that a villager in Vadipatti has to wait 30 minutes (the median). The average guestimate was 60 minutes. Most of you reported having to wait 10 minutes (median) with an average of 12 minutes for public transport. This means a villager in Vadipatti Taluk has to wait 18 times as long as you do for public transport.

So how often does a village entrepreneur travel beyond a 5 km radius? Many of you guestimated that they leave once in three days (median 10 times a month) while the average of the guestimates was once in two days (15 times a month). In fact, entrepreneurs, on average, ventured 5 km beyond their village only once in a month. When we talked to non-entrepreneurs, we found that only 8% had travelled beyond 5 km in the last six months putting the average at well under once in 2 months. So you grossly overestimated (by over 15 times) the physical mobility of the average villager. On the other hand you all reported travelling beyond 5 km from your home at least every day. The median response was 30 times in a month and the average 34 times a month. This means that a villager in Vadipatti travels beyond 5 km 30 to 60 times a month less than you do.

We also asked about tower coverage and call patterns and the results are similar. Like petrol bunks, you underestimated the cell phone tower coverage. In fact Vadipatti has almost complete coverage (>90%) as do your cities. And, while you reported making in the range of 10 to 15 calls per day, you guessed that they were making about 5 calls. The truth however is that it is more in the range of 1 or less, counting those who don’t have a phone and make any calls.

We will tell you more about their connectivity later. In terms of your mobility, however, I would venture to guess that if you had to wait 18 times as long for a bus or had to travel 20 km to get petrol, you would leave the vicinity of your home a lot less often.


  1. Interesting results! It made me wonder whether the goal of socioeconomic development should be to minimize the statistical difference altogether between (say) Madurai and Vadipatti Taluk, or whether we must strive for a particular structure of statistical differences, so that the relationship between city and country is harmonious. For example if physical connectivity was greater, would it increase or decrease migration of young people from Vadipatti to Madurai.

    I suspect you are you attempting a statistical version of Ambrogio Lorenzetti's frescos :) He is known to have captured the imagination of the Renaissance thinkers on issues of the relationship between city and country. Allegory of good and bad government are the names used to refer to his frecos today.

    Less allegorically, how should one begin to think about the ideal relationship between the city and its hinterland? The 20th century urban thinker Jane Jacobs had a lot to say in this regard...

  2. There is a direct relation between ease of transportation and socio-economic development. I have a startup working on transportation solution for rural India. The extensive research we have conducted in rural areas of five different states in North India shows that while mobile phones have reached in the most remote areas, the same is not with transportation. The situation is better in Punjab with better roads and lot of private buses plying, then in UP and Bihar.
    Lot of these areas have indigenous vehicles like Jugaad which is powered by a Pump's engine and are illegal,unsafe, polluting,inefficient and noisy.
    We are working towards bridging this gap by a small technological intervention.
    I can be contacted at