Underdeveloped districts on an ‘aspirational’ path of highway development

AJ Vinayak | Updated on: May 29, 2022

Improvement in connectivity and highway infrastructure is on the cards 

‘Aspirational districts’ in the country are set to witness more development in highway infrastructure, if the government’s recent statements in Lok Sabha are any indication. The Centre’s ‘Aspirational Districts’ programme has identified sectors that are critical in improving quality of life or economic productivity of citizens in India’s 112 most underdeveloped districts.

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, said 6,575 km of National Highways were constructed to connect ‘aspirational districts’ during the last five years. Data cited in his recent reply in Lok Sabha showed a major share of development work went to Jharkhand (1,156 km), followed by Madhya Pradesh (929 km) and Maharashtra (971 km).

Higher investment

G Giridhar Prabhu, a cashew entrepreneur from Mangaluru, who owns a factory in Maharashtra, told BusinessLine such infrastructure projects can encourage investments in land in ‘aspirational districts’. If the entrepreneurs are sure the infrastructure would be set up, they will invest in many projects as they find land price more reasonable in such regions than developed areas.

If an ‘aspirational district’ is labour surplus, people will have easy movement to other regions. “Mobility of capital, labour, and organisers like entrepreneurs, all count in developing such districts,” he said.

Some northeastern States also saw improvement in NH infrastructure as nearly 247 kilometres of highway were constructed in the last five years. The States include Sikkim (87 km), Tripura and Assam (57 km each), and Arunachal Pradesh (21 km).

However, performance of some States remained low in the last five years. Development of NH in aspirational districts remained at 182 km in West Bengal, 176 km in Bihar, and 48 km in Rajasthan during the period. Development work is set to gain momentum in these States in the coming months as the Lok Sabha data indicate around 644 km of NH work in Bihar, 1,262 km in Rajasthan, and 402 km in West Bengal are either sanctioned or ongoing. This marks significant growth in the NH connectivity of ‘aspirational districts’ in these States.

K Sudhir Raj, Professor at Nitte-based Justice KS Hegde Institute of Management, said the expansion of NH network in aspirational districts will help the government’s ‘one district, one product’ programme in moving the commodities in those districts at a quicker pace, providing more market access to them.

Better connectivity

He said the ambitious government programme will yield fruit, but requires some waiting time. NH development connecting the ‘aspirational districts’ will contribute to quicker movement of men and materials, aiding the ‘one district, one product’ programme in particular. It will act as a nerve system for the entire district for good access to the markets, he said.

Gadkari in Lok Sabha said 222 NH projects in about 5,566 km length in the country are ongoing for connecting ‘aspirational districts’ at a total estimated cost of about ₹66,200 crore. Added to this, 221 NH projects with a length of about 5,795 km costing ₹1.03 lakh crore have been identified in such districts.

Though the ‘Aspirational Districts’ programme focusses on sectors such as health, school education, agriculture, and financial inclusion for transformation, the government also focussed on developing NH infrastructure in such districts.

Published on May 29, 2022
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