Faced with the historical burden of poverty and backwardness, Odisha is largely banking on its rural road connectivity to develop agriculture, health, education, urbanisation and employment generation. Not surprisingly, out of total roads constructed under the union government’s Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) during the last three years and the current year, Odisha has constructed 15,562 km roads that is 12 per cent of the total roads constructed under the scheme during this period across the States.

But it is not just Odisha. The other States with rural domination have accelerated rural road construction. Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal have been among the top five States to construct roads under the PMGSY in the last three years.

According to the Ministry of Rural Development data presented to Lok Sabha last week, against 1,78,184 eligible habitations of 250+ and 500+ population size identified for coverage under the scheme, 16,086 habitations have been provided connectivity by the States out of their own resources. 4,722 habitations have either been dropped or have not been found feasible. Out of the balance 1,57,376 habitations sanctioned for providing connectivity under the PMGSY, 1,55,435 habitations have already been connected as of November 27, 2021.

PMGSY-I envisaged constructing all-weather connectivity to eligible unconnected habitations in rural areas. Habitations with a population of 500+ in plain areas and 250+ in North-Eastern and Himalayan states, desert areas, Tribal areas, and selected tribal and backward districts have been identified to implement the scheme.

The government planned to upgrade 50,000 km rural roads under PMGSY-II. Total 49,885 km road length and 765 Long Span Bridges have been sanctioned, of which only 4,240 km road length and 254 bridges are in balance, according to the government data.

The government launched PMGSY-III in 2019 to consolidate 1,25,000 km road length by March 2025. About 72,000 km road length has been sanctioned under PMGSY-III, out of which 17,750 km has been completed.

A total of ₹1,12,419 crore, including State share, is likely to be incurred from 2021-22 to 2024-25 for completion of all the ongoing projects of PMGSY.

Roads to development

“It is now a well-documented fact that rural roads have far-reaching impact on all the sectors of the economy, including agriculture, industry, health communication, education, etc. Rural roads open backward areas for development and bring isolated parts into the mainstream of development” says N. S. Srinivasan of National Transportation Planning and Research Centre, Trivandrum in his paper on the planning of rural roads uploaded on the Ministry of Rural Development website. Rural roads facilitate better goods distribution, promote the development of market centres, and provide an incentive to farmers to generate a more marketable surplus, he added.

“Road connectivity is something that will help us to get a better price for our produce. We can take our produce to the market without depending on middleman” says Ramesh Patil, a farmer from Osmanabad. He says that even sugar mills are unwilling to send their cane cutter teams to areas with no road connectivity and farmers have to shell out money from their pockets to invite sugarcane cutting teams.