New Delhi: After a gap of five years, the government’s flagship rural road connectivity programme, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), is expected to achieve its annual target of constructing some 49,000 km of roads this year, two officials at the rural development ministry said.
According to the first official, 48,812 km of rural roads will be laid by 31 March 2017, “as construction work picks up from January to May every year.”
“So far (January 2017), a total of 32,963 km of road has been completed which is 67.53% of the annual target,” the official said.
“This translates to 111 km of roads getting constructed every day. According to the annual target, the average per day construction should be 133 km. From April to August 2016, PMGSY achieved an average per day construction of 139 km and therefore by 31 March, 2017, we are sure of achieving the annual targeted length of 48,812 km,” he said.
According to figures provided by the ministry of rural development, in 2011-12, 21,750 km of rural roads had been constructed which dropped to 18,080 km in 2012-13 (till January 2013) and further dipped to 16,914 km in 2013-14 (till January 2014). Road construction picked up in 2014-15 with the laying of more than 26,000 km of road till January 2015.
The second rural development ministry official said that a directive from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure all rural habitations are connected by all-weather roads in a time-bound manner had resulted in the ministry reviewing its flagship programme. “The prime minister indicated in a meeting last year that the PMGSY needs to be set specific targets for construction as well as connecting habitations. It was on his intervention that this programme has been set a target date of March 2019, by which all rural habitations have to be connected by all-weather roads,” the second official said. “This is also an indication of the importance given to the rural economy,” the official added.
However, figures provided by the rural development ministry also show that the government’s target of connecting 15,000 rural habitations by 31 March 2017, was off target, with just 6,473 habitations linked by roads till January 2017.
“But we are hopeful this target will also be achieved,” the second official said.
PMGSY was launched in 2000 by the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with the objective of providing all-weather road connectivity to unconnected rural habitations. It is being seen by the present NDA government as a key tool to spur domestic economic growth, given that the global economy recovery remains weak at present.
Last year, finance minister Arun Jaitely announced an allocation of Rs19,000 crore for the programme. Adding the contribution of state governments to this, the government is expected to spend Rs27,000 crore on rural connectivity by 31 March 2017—one of the highest amounts spent on this particular activity in recent years.
“I think the target of connecting all habitations with rural roads by 2019 is achievable,” said former rural development secretary N.C. Saxena. After the prime minister’s intervention, “states like Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are getting more money to spend on rural connectivity. Ask people from Bihar and they will tell you that the turnaround in the state is also due to the improvement in rural connectivity,” Saxena said.
“Rural connectivity helps employment generation, it allows farmers to shift to cash crops like vegetables which is labour intensive so more jobs are created. People buy transport vehicles to move goods produced in villages to market places. Shops come up along the roadside. So there are many, many ancillary activities that are generated which results in the growth of the rural economy. If the roads are good, buses ply and that means access to towns and cities. It also means improvement in the presence of government officials—doctors, teachers, etc—which again means village development. So rural roads are very important to boost the rural economy as well as India’s overall economic growth,” Saxena said.