India pledged to dramatically step up its spending on roads in rural areas, where the government wants to boost sluggish farm growth and raise hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a conference that Rs48,000 crore would be spent on a four-year project ending in 2009 to connect 66,000 villages.
“Rural road connectivity is a critical component of our overall strategy for rural development. It promotes access to economic and social services and facilitates the growth processes on our rural economy,” Singh said.
Singh’s premiership has seen annual growth rates of between 8% and 9%, but analysts say his government has failed to provide the investment in infrastructure and education needed to build a solid base for future expansion.
The Prime Minister told government officials that corruption was holding back development.
“A major reason for poor quality roads is corruption and the lack of qualityassurance. Corruption in road construction projects has spread like cancer to every corner of our vast country,” he said.
In the fiscal year ended March, the finance ministry pledged to spend Rs52,000 crore on the rural road network. Better village roads would help India cut farmers’ transport costs, promote crop diversification and create more non-farm jobs, Singh, who leads a coalition government headed by the Congress and supported by communists, said.
Some 60% of India’s one billion-plus population are dependent on the farm sector, and rural consumption contributes significantly to overall growth.
Farm expansion has stagnated at around 2% in recent years, and the government wants to double that to sustain an average 9% growth up to the fiscal year 2011-12.
The road building is part of the ambitious Rs1.74 lakh crore Bharat Nirmanscheme to improve infrastructure, boost rural incomes and bridge the urban-rural divide.
Financing will come from direct budget support and a Rural Infrastructure Development Fund, Singh said, adding states must ensure roads are built on time. The village road scheme runs parallel to a national highway project involving investment of Rs2.2 lakh crore.