The term “integrated” has different meanings and interpretations at different point of time. While some have used the word to describe a system on inter-relationship between activities falling within different sectors of development, others regard it as a substitute for processes by which a group of activities are proposed and decided upon. Many others are contented to consider it as a manner in which special programmes or activities are linked to general framework to obtain optimum result.
In the context of integrated rural development, it has been interpreted mainly in two ways. One is the well known emphasis on inter sectored integration with its elements of inter sect oral complementarities and internal consistency. In this sense, the integrated rural development would comprise of comprehensive agricultural development links to rural industries, subsidiary occupations, tertiary sector opportunities, community services and development organization (Sundaram, 1977).
The second emphasis is concerned with the integrated project approach, with a core project as a basic starting point and then weaving around it all complementarities and linkages. But both these approaches are partial in their scope. Integration has very wider scope including sect oral, spatial, operational top down, social and ecological, etc.
Time is another dimension of the concept of integration, because plan may be of different time span-immediate, short term, long term and perspective, etc. Hence, the integrated rural development refers to an imaginary integration of rural space devoid of urban space in the spatial settlement system.
An integrated approach to development including programmes of agriculture, cottage and small as well as large scale industries, education programmes, establishment of marketing facilities and growth of urban centers, etc have to be integrated as single strategy for development.
Such an approach should lead to the (i) creation of intra-regional balance (between rural-urban areas), and (ii) achieving inter-regional balance in the state (Buggi and Ramanna, 1978, p.407). That is why, the expression integrated rural development is misnomer; it may be better termed as ‘integrated regional development and the development strategy should be modified accordingly,
In actual sense, integrated rural development is a very comprehensive concept. It emphasizes that the rural development is not merely the same as agricultural development nor it is only a policy of rural welfare. It is primarily geographic or area concept, not merely at one level but at different area levels.
It is not merely a task of developing the plan for area in isolation, ‘but of interacting the same at spatial levels and ultimately of nesting or integrating these into a single consistent framework (Misra and Sundaram, 1980). The concept puts emphasis on six elements: labour intensive agriculture, employment generating minor development works, small scale labour oriented high industries, local self-reliance, institutional and organizational arrangements and an appropriate hierarchy of development centers which are growth generating and mutually reinforcing (Waterston, 1975, p.52).
This approach also relies on a target group approach and aims at full utilization of the labour strength and better redistribution of income. It also envisages ‘development continuum’ approach which considers step by step
transformation-transformation of the subsistence oriented peasant into a market oriented farmer.
Finally it may be concluded that integrated rural development puts emphasis on following fundamental assumptions:
(i) Agricultural growth is a precondition for rural development. But it is useful to mention that agricultural development depends on economic and social factors. It needs well efficient supporting system consisting of physical infrastructural facilities, institutional transformation and creation of skilled motivated manpower, organization by and for the farmers.
(ii) The development of agriculture requires concomitant development of the secondary and tertiary sectors; hence, industrialization is essential for rural development. Fine blend of production and employment oriented industrialization should be part and parcel of such planning.
(iii) Urbanization on decentralized basis is essential because by creating a system of rural towns based on a hierarchy of functions, the process of development could be stepped up.
(iv) Social factors play an important role in the development. Hence, people’s participation not only at implementation level but also at formulation level is essential.
(v) The main objective of the integrated rural development is to alleviate rural poverty and create additional opportunities of employment in the rural sector.