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In 2000, the Centre had hoped that “all-weather" roads built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) would transform India’s villages. The scheme was expected to boost agricultural incomes and jobs. But improved road connectivity has ended up having a negative effect on agriculture, with workers finding it easier to move out of farming, a recent paper suggests.

The paper, written by US-based academics Sam Asher and Paul Novosad, came to this conclusion after looking at how over 11,000 villages that did not have a paved road in 2001 changed after getting one through the scheme. The share of workers in agriculture dropped by 9 percentage points, while the share in manufacturing, education, and retail grew by 7 percentage points, the paper finds.

This shows residents moved from farming to become wage labourers in other sectors. Men were more likely than women to exit agriculture, particularly those in younger age groups, the research finds.

Many of these non-farm jobs are outside the village too. The authors estimate that, on average, 14 workers per village leave to work outside, enabled by improved transport.

Farmers who exited agriculture were more likely to be those who owned the least amount of land, as they had nothing to lose by leaving. Of workers with no land, 33% left agriculture. But of those with more than four acres of land, only 10% left.

The authors point out that it is not that India’s villages haven’t seen any growth. In their view, whatever little growth villages have seen has been due to factors other than road connectivity.

The findings suggest that if the government wants to transform agriculture and kickstart growth in rural India, improving road connectivity and lowering transportation costs clearly is not enough. There are other factors limiting agricultural growth that will have to be taken care of first.

Also read: “Rural Roads and Local Economic Development"

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