Roads are the Lifeline

roadsGood roads are the lifeline of a nation’s economy. With the horrible road network in the past fifty years now India is galloping in this front. The roads built through Pradhan Mantri Grama Sadhak Yojana and the national highways programme are paying rich dividends. I can say this is one of the splendid achievements of the NDA government half continued by the UPA I.

The Hindu editorial writes (1 July 2009)

Despite India’s strong economic growth in recent years, longstanding inadequacies persist. One such challenging area is poor rural road connectivity, with over 40 per cent of India’s rural population remaining outside the rural road network. The benefits of linking India’s villages with a good road network are enormous and substantial public investments are obviously worthwhile. In addition to employment generation, such a road link yields socio-economic benefits like reduction in prices of agricultural and consumer products, access to markets, public transport, employment opportunities, and better education and healthcare facilities. A study by the World Bank makes the point that the retail prices of low value/bulk commodities are generally 10 per cent higher in unconnected villages than in those with road access. The most important benefit, however, relates to poverty reduction. A 2007-study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that investing in roads had the greatest impact on reducing rural poverty, performing consistently better than investments in agricultural research and development, and education. India’s efforts to improve rural road connectivity which gained a fresh impetus with the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) need to be substantially stepped up.

The task, however, is immense. According to the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Rural Roads for the Eleventh Plan, there are over 3.3 lakh rural habitations with no road connection. The PMGSY which is part of the Bharat Nirman programme aimed at improving rural infrastructure between 2005 and 2009. It initially proposed to give road connection to 66,802 eligible habitations and subsequently scaled down the target to 59,536 habitations. The achievement, however, has fallen short of the target, with the coverage limited to 35 per cent (up to 2008). The second component of the plan, which is to upgrade 1.9 lakh kilometres of rural roads, also fell short of the target. As financial resources are a major constraint, the Planning Commission’s suggestion to look for alternative financing models — including a public-private partnership at the local level, for instance, with sugar mills — merits serious consideration. However, the government should continue to play the lead role in improving rural connectivity, which is vital for the economic and social inclusion of a significant part of rural India.

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