New Delhi: The government will, in all likelihood, miss out on its ambitious plan, spelt out in collaboration wth state governments, to provide connectivity to 66,800 rural habitations across the country by building 146,000km of road by 2009. With less than 19 months to go, only one-fifth of the habitations have been connected and work is under progress in another 22,000 habitations, adding up to just over half the target.

Planning Commission officials and experts maintain that this was because of the failure of the state governments to hold up their side of the bargain. In nearly half the cases, 31,000, the state governments concerned have not yet submitted the detailed project reports (DPR) to the ministry of rural development, the nodal ministry executing this programme.

See: Elusive targets (PDF)

DPRs are blueprints of projects and, without obtaining them, the government cannot execute any road project. Once the proposal is received by the ministry, it takes four to five months to award the contract.

As part of its ambitious, time-bound Bharat Nirman programme, the ruling Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government aims to connect villages with a population of over 1,000 in the plains and 500 in hilly, tribal and desert areas, with an all-weather road under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).

The project is estimated to cost Rs48,000 crore and was to be concluded in 2009. The Planning Commission believes that this would be completed only by 2011. “A large number of projects remain to be cleared and many states do not have the wherewithal to prepare DPRs as there is acute shortage of civil engineers who prepare these reports," said a senior Planning Commission official, who did not wish to be named. He added that in some states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal, clearance of the balance DPRs alone may happen in the second half of 2008.

The ministry of rural development sees it differently.

“We hope to clear all balance DPRs by March. Once DPRs are cleared, it takes around 16-17 months to connect a habitation," said a senior official at the ministry of rural development. “Work may get delayed only in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, that too should be complete in the financial year 2009-10."

Outside experts said this is an ambitious target.

“The rural development ministry’s claim that all DPRs will be cleared by 2008 is driven by extra optimism, as also the claim that once DPRs are cleared, projects will be executed in 16-17 months. This can happen only in the relatively progressive (states) and not in the laggard states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal," said Amrit Pandurangi, executive director, PricewaterhouseCoopers. He also added that the entire project may even go beyond 2011.

While habitations in 19 states are covered under the PMGSY, nine states (Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) account for over 90% of habitations connectivity targets.

Of these, only two states, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have almost met targets set for the first two years. While Rajasthan has achieved 99% of the target set for the first two years (2005-07), MP has done 89%. The Planning Commission official said work in Rajasthan got expedited when retired civil engineers were brought on board for the job.

Rural development ministry officials, however, say that Rajasthan and MP have natural advantages (such as long dry weather and availability of raw materials) unlike other states such as Assam, with its hilly terrain and long monsoons, and Jharkhand, which has faced political instability in the last two years.

Radha Mohan Singh, president of the Bihar state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “Ever since our (Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance) government took over in November 2005, development projects have been accorded the highest priority in the state."

Added Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a national spokesperson of the BJP: “It is a fact that Bihar faces a scarcity of raw material as well as quality contractors to push the PMGSY. There is a huge demand-supply gap in this respect and the state government is not ready to compromise on quality."

Similarly, Ajay Chakraborty, a Lok Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (a constituent of the Left Front, a key ally of the UPA) from Basirhat, West Bengal, said: “The zila parishads (district councils) have come to wield too much power in the state. Even the elected Lok Sabha members are not given any information about important projects such as rural roads. I keep touring the rural areas and even where I find roads being laid, the quality is poor. The state government has much to answer for."