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Linking Villages: A Road to Development

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
June 26, 2021

“The soul of India lives in its villages.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

Rural road connectivity is a key component of rural development. It promotes access to economic and social services, thereby generating increased agricultural productivity, non-agricultural employment as well as non-agricultural productivity. This in turn expands rural growth opportunities and real income, creating the circumstances to reduce poverty. A robust and efficient infrastructure network is a sine qua non for the vigorous and inclusive growth of any economy. The economy is able to attain high levels of efficiency and is able to compete in the global market only if there is an adequate infrastructural support.

How does rural road connectivity impact the economy?

A 1999 study by Fan et al. carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute on linkages between government expenditure and poverty in rural India has revealed that an investment of Rs 1 crore in roads lifts 1650 poor persons above the poverty line. Public investment on roads impacts rural poverty through its effect on improved agricultural productivity, higher non-farm employment opportunities and increased rural wages. Improvement in agricultural productivity not only reduces rural poverty directly by increasing the income of poor households. It also causes decline in poverty indirectly by raising agricultural wages and lowering food prices (since poor households are net buyers of food grains).

Similarly, increased non-farm employment and higher rural wages also enhance incomes of the rural poor and consequently, reduce rural poverty. This study estimated that while the “productivity effect” of government spending on rural roads accounts for 24% of total impact on poverty, increased non-farm employment accounts for 55% and higher rural wages account for the remaining 31%. Further, of the total productivity effect on poverty, 75% arises from the direct impact of roads in increasing incomes, while the remaining 25% arises from lower food prices (15%) and increased wages (10%). Similar results are found in other developing countries.

Status of Rural Roads in India

Roads in India are classified under a time-honored system into National Highways (NHs), State Highways (SHs), Major District Roads (MDRs), Other District Roads (ODRs) and Village Roads (VRs), with well-recognized standards for construction and maintenance laid out in respect to each category. Generally speaking, there are clearly understood demarcations of responsibility in terms of governmental offices expected to deal with each category. However, while the activity mapping for NHs and SHs is clear cut, with respect to MDRs, ODRs and VRs, these distinctions are blurred.

In many states, though local governments are assigned responsibilities with respect to ODRs and VRs, a plethora of agencies and line departments undertake formation and repairs of roads. These include the state government’s PWD wing, the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs), parallel bodies created by multilateral agencies, Forest Department and Development Authorities and so on. There are several general funds that are used for roads, apart from special schemes tied to specific road projects. Thus, roads are repaired using Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY), scarcity relief funds and untied funds devolved by states.

What is the purpose of an all-weather rural road?

India has a rural road network of about 2.7 million km developed with an investment of almost Rs 35,000 crore, estimated to have a replacement value of about Rs 180,000 crore. This constitutes over 80% of the total road network, however, about a million km length of the road does not meet the technical standards required.

An all-weather rural road brings various benefits to the villagers along its route. As producers, they will enjoy higher net prices for their marketed surpluses and as consumers, they will pay less for urban goods. If there is no school in the village, those children who already attend one elsewhere will spend less time travelling to and fro, and those who did not attend earlier may do so now. The rural road will provide easy access to medical facilities in terms of emergencies and will help increase institutional deliveries and access to primary healthcare.

Where do we stand?

In a developing country like India where 73% of the population lives in rural areas, we need a very structured planning procedure for developmental activities and infrastructure facilities in rural areas. Rural roads are an integral part of rural development. They stimulate overall development by providing access to economic and social infrastructure. Finally, it needs to be noted that the planning process dynamic and needs temporal modification as per the requirements of the people involved. We need to identify the basic hindrance in the policy and use the best possible way to address it. A government does not become popular or unpopular on the basis of its policy—Rather, it solely depends on the manner in which the policy is implemented.

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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