Construction, development and maintenance of roads are not an end in themselves, but a means to ensure that economic development is all pervasive and reaches one and all. Undoubtedly, roads are the spinal cord of developmental outreach in a country like India. Awareness about Government public welfare programmes and effective delivery of public services hinge critically on the network spread and quality of roads. The successful implementation of programmes and schemes and their quality performance largely depend on whether Government functionaries and NGOs are able to ensure timely and door-step delivery of public services.

Rural Network:

Government of India’s Ministry of Road Transport & Highways categorizes India’s Road network into national highways, state highways, district roads, project roads, urban roads and rural roads. Out of these categories, the growth in rural roads in recent years has been the most rapid. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the rural road network grew by 21.4% from 27.50 lakh km to 33.37 lakh km. During the year 2015-16, the growth in the network was 17.9% and the total rural road length was 39.35 lakh km. This network comprises as much as 70% of the total network in the country.
Government of India defines the four constituents of rural roads as (i) Panchayati Raj roads, which include those constructed by Zila Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and Gram Sabhas; (ii) those constructed under Ministry of Rural Development’s Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY); (iii) those constructed by State Public Works Department; and (iv) those which were constructed under the erstwhile Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY). Panchayati Raj roads form the largest share of 47% of the total rural road network. The share of the other three constituents is 16%, 15% and 23%, respectively.

PMGSY: A Revolution in Rural Road Network

Out of these components of rural roads, construction of roads under PMGSY commenced in 2000, with the objective of providing fair weather roads to unconnected habitations as part of a poverty reduction strategy. Indeed the progress of construction of roads under PMGSY has been fast-paced. The proportion of surfaced roads too for PMGSY roads is high at 88%, compared to those of other categories. Around 83.5% State PWD roads, 54% of Panchayati roads and 20% JRY roads are surfaced.

Gram Swaraj Abhiyan & Rural Roads:

Roads are a means of delivering services at the door-step. From 14th April to 5th May, 2018, the Government of india had launched the ’Gram Swaraj Abhiyan’. Objectives of the campaign entailed spreading awareness about pro-poor initiatives of government and achieving saturation of eligible households/persons under seven flagship pro-poor programmes in more than 20,000 identified villages, viz. (i) Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, (ii) Saubhagya, (iii) UJALA or Unnat Jeevan by Affordable LEDs for All scheme, (iv) Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, (v) Pradhan Mantri leevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, (vi) Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and (vii) Mission lndradhanush.

Road Network and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan

The performance of the seven schemes in the States which have the largest rural road network. As evident, except for the Saubhagya scheme in Assam and the Ujala and Jeevan Jyoti schemes in Odisha, high levels of saturation have been achieved under most of the schemes in the States with the largest rural road networks, thus, validating the hypothesis that if delivery of services is the end, one of the vital means to achieve it is to bolster the road connectivity. Some States like Tamil Nadu have achieved 100% saturation in three of the schemes and more than 100% saturation in the remaining.

Road Safety:

A very crucial aspect of road development is road safety. However, data reflect that rural areas in the country account for the larger share of road accidents, especially fatal ones. Further, rural areas also have a higher number of persons who are injured and killed in road accidents as compared to urban areas.

The Way Out:

The importance of rural road already been outlined above, but a lot more needs to be done. An efficient, reliable, safe and quality road infrastructure is an essential complement for the execution of well thought out development strategies and a natural pre-requisite for an effective development process.

  • Pragmatic planning is a necessary pre-cursor to effective implementation.
  • Budgetary requirements of construction have been increased. It is important that adequate allocations are made and the money is disbursed on time.
  • Mere construction is not enough. Maintenance of the asset created is equally important.
  • The important of carriage-way width cannot be ignored. This aspect, along with the issues of gradient of the road and shoulders, if any, need to be addressed appropriately. It is important to keep in mind that maintenance cost of all weather roads would be low.
  • It is well established that road safety relies on 5 ‘Es’. Of these, ‘Engineering of roads’ figures prominently, while the other ‘Es’ are ’Engineering of vehicles’, ’Education and awareness of citizens, especially drivers and other road users’, ’Enforcement of traffic rules’ and ‘Emergency post-accident care’. Therefore, instead of merely focusing on road development to provide point to point rural connectivity and thereafter taking post-accident corrective measure, it is imperative that adequate attention is to be paid to ’Engineering of roads’ at the outset.
  • Any effective policy needs to be backed by consistent data. Currently, since the construction and maintenance of rural roads are done by various agencies, there is no centralized body which maintains all rural road statistics. This becomes a handicap in taking a holistic View for policy formulation.
  • There is a need for a prudent call to balance the socio-economic benefits of a large road network vis-a-vis the costs of pollution and deforestation that it necessarily entails.

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Courtesy: Kurukshetra