The road to rural development

T. E. Raja Simhan | Updated on: Mar 12, 2018

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Better rural roads lead to improvements in employment, education and healthcare.

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the poverty level is among the highest in India, almost three-quarters of the population live in rural areas. And most parts don't have an all-weather road connection. A large section of the country's rural population is still isolated from the mainstream, thus depriving them of the benefits of the country's economic growth. It is said that nearly half of the country's habitations still remain unconnected. And improper road connectivity is one of the main reasons stopping growth in rural areas.

However, things changed in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, when road connectivity was provided to rural areas under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. It was found that in project villages in Madhya Pradesh, where road connectivity was provided, the number of households living below the poverty line decreased by 5 per cent between 2006 and 2008. Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, the number decreased by 2 per cent.

The living conditions in connected villages continue to improve, and the number of households living below the poverty line is likely to continue to decrease, says the Asian Development Bank, which did a study on the impact of the project in these two states.

Connectivity impacted rural living conditions in two ways. One, it gave the communities more reliable and quicker access to outside products, services, information, and social linkages. Two, it gave external service, product providers, while social contacts improved access to rural communities. Connectivity has enabled communities to fully access existing government services that aid rural areas, the Bank said.

The necessary new road connectivity investments in these two States comprised 15 per cent of the total investments under PMGSY. On completion, 9,574 km of rural roads were constructed, which significantly improved connectivity in the project area. The project had remarkable socio-economic impacts, and directly benefited 3,207 habitations and around 11 million people.

CRITICAL LINK

A nationwide network of all-weather roads in rural areas is a critical link for progress. There is a link between rural connectivity and growth, employment, education and healthcare. This link was clearly established by the Asian Development Bank, a major lending agency for the project, by analysing the socio-economic impact of the ambitious PMGSY. The programme was launched in December 2000 to provide connectivity through good all-weather roads to all unconnected habitations, with a population of more than 500 persons by 2007.

Approximately 1,60,000 habitations were expected to be covered under this programme, with an anticipated investment of Rs 60,000 crore. The Asian Development Bank funded this through a series of loans, beginning with the proposed project in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The Bank didn't stop with just the funding. It returned to the places where the programme was implemented to take stock of the benefits the programme brought to the rural areas. After three years of doing the survey, the message was loud and clear — the programme is quickly resulting in a socio-economic transformation in rural India.

The Bank found that the presence of all-weather roads has directly or indirectly contributed to improvements in the areas of connectivity, transportation, government services, livelihood, commerce, education, health, land value, infrastructure, social interactions and gender empowerment.

According to the Ministry of Rural Development, approximately 1.67 lakh unconnected habitations are eligible for coverage. This involves construction of approximately 3.71 lakh km of roads for new connectivity.

BHARAT NIRMAN

The government, in 2005, announced another major plan to rebuild rural India. It then identified Rural Roads as one of the six components of Bharat Nirman, and set a goal to provide connectivity to all habitations with a population of 1,000 persons and above (500 persons and above in the case of hilly or tribal areas) with an all-weather road.

A total of 59,564 habitations are to be provided new connectivity under Bharat Nirman. This would involve construction of 1,46,185 km of rural roads. In addition to new connectivity, Bharat Nirman envisages upgradation/renewal of 1,94,130 km of existing rural roads. This comprises 60 per cent upgradation from the Government of India and 40 per cent renewal by the State Governments.

Under the PMGSY, 79,938 habitations, almost 73 per cent of the sanctioned habitations, have been provided all-weather road connectivity till September 2011. It is targeted to connect 54,648 habitations through good all-weather roads, under rural road components of Bharat Nirman; proposals for connecting 53,623 habitations have been cleared up to September, 2011.

For India to bring its rural folks into the mainstream, it is important that road connectivity to rural areas is speeded up. While a lot of private sector investment has come in for developing the country's highways, it is time that the private sector takes up keen interest in connecting rural India through good road projects.

In fact, a number of companies, as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility, are implementing a number of projects in villages. They should also look at developing these connecting roads in rural areas, as a part of their agenda for socio-economic growth.

Published on March 01, 2012
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