Rural roads scheme achieves aim but is riddled with speed-breakers

The construction of roads under the  Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana has also varied across states, with north-east states and other hilly areas seeing little progress. (File  Photo: AFP)
The construction of roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana has also varied across states, with north-east states and other hilly areas seeing little progress. (File Photo: AFP)


After the BJP government came to power in 2014, the pace of construction under the scheme picked up, reaching 134 km per day in 2017-18 and 2018-19 but has been on a downward trajectory since.

For governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the construction of roads and highways has been a highlight going back to the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was back then, in 2000, that the aim of providing good all-weather roads to unconnected villages was set under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Nearly 25 years since then, efforts by successive governments have helped build over 760,000 km of roads, connecting 173,000 habitations at a bill of 3.2 trillion.

However, the scheme was not free from delays, poor quality, and the lack of proper monitoring, and more importantly, had its aims based on the outdated 2001 Census. After the BJP government returned to power in 2014, the pace of construction picked up, reaching 134 km per day in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but has slowed since. It clocked over 100 km per day even in the pandemic years, but it fell nearly to half in 2023-24, a Mint analysis of data shared in the Parliament showed.

Meanwhile, the spending on the scheme consistently undershot Budget estimates. Barring 2021-22, the budgeted amount since 2016-17 has been roughly 19,000 crore every year, which was cut to 12,000 crore for the current year. A report by the standing committee on rural development, laid in Parliament in July last year, expressed concerns over unspent funds and noted that the need of the hour was expeditious utilization of available finances for faster completion of projects, particularly in states that were lagging.

Progress so far

PMGSY was launched in December 2000 as a 100% centrally-sponsored scheme, but over the years, it evolved into different verticals with shared funding between the Centre and state governments. PMGSY-I aimed to provide connectivity to every village that has a population of more than 1000 by 2003 and every village of more than 500 persons 2007. The second phase, PMGSY-II, was launched in 2013 to consolidate the existing rural road network, with a target of 50,000 km. Six years later, PMGSY-III was launched which aimed to further consolidate and provide connectivity to habitations.

More Like This: Much of rural India now has taps, but running water largely remains a pipe dream

The first and second phases are close to completion, having achieved 99% of the sanctioned construction of roads. However, the completion of the target under PMGSY-I has been delayed by nearly 15 years. It is worth noting that both PMGSY-I and PMGSY-II inched close to completion only after several deadline extensions.

The progress under PMGSY-III seems better than the previous verticals. The vertical aims to complete 125,000 km of roads by March 2025 and has achieved 69% so far, the scheme’s dashboard shows. However, the parliamentary panel expressed concerns over PMGSY-III while highlighting the “inordinate delay" in the completion of those two phases. “Despite the passage of a substantive period of time since its (PMGSY-III) launch, even the sanctioning of the entire targeted length of road to the states has not been completed so far. This does not augur well for the future of the vertical as the deadline for completion is not very far," the panel noted.

The road ahead

The construction of roads under the scheme has also varied across states, with north-east states and other hilly areas seeing little progress. Eight states and union territories have made zero progress under the current vertical (PMGSY-III), and five have achieved less than 20% of the sanctioned length, as per data available for 32 states and union territories on the PMGSY dashboard.

And This: The dichotomies that define India’s rural jobs promise

Nine states, mostly in the plains, have achieved over 80% of the sanctioned length. According to the rural development ministry, the slow progress elsewhere has been due to issues of land acquisition, forest clearance, and poor contracting capacity, among others, and further challenges like adverse climatic conditions, tough terrains, and short working season in hilly states, leading to delays in the implementation of PMGSY-I and PMSGY-II. Consequently, the sanction under PMGSY-III has been slow due to the pending work under the first two phases in some states.

Despite the progress on construction, quality remains a major issues. The parliamentary panel noted that 41% of the roads were “stated to be in the poor and very poor category largely attributed to the non-provisioning of adequate funds for maintenance by the state government".

A bigger problem is the use of the 2001 Census to identify eligible habitations. The number of villages with a population of above 500 (the criterion for PMGSY) had already increased by nearly 27,000 by 2011. The panel said it was necessary to review the policy and introduce a new vertical of the scheme to include habitations as per the 2011 Census.

Even then the government will be a decade behind on fully addressing the needs of the growing population. With the status of the new Census hanging in balance, it may take a while before the roads become available to more people in rural India.

This is the third part of a four-part data journalism series on the progress of key welfare schemes. Read about the rural jobs scheme here (Part 1), Jal Jeevan Mission here (Part 2), and the rural housing scheme here (Part 4). Also read our pre-election report card in the seven-part Election Pitch series here.

Also Read: India's consumer goods sector longs for a rural revival

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.