Improving Connectivity Across Rural India

April 10, 2014


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Since 2004, World Bank support has helped build and improve some 16,000 km of rural roads. About six million people living in the remotest parts of India have benefitted. 

Shaju John/World Bank

Since 2004, two World Bank projects have helped the Government of India’s National Rural Roads Program (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana or PMGSY) to substantially expand rural road connectivity in a systematic manner. Unconnected habitations now have access to new all-weather roads and important rural link routes have been upgraded. These roads have revitalized the rural economy and improved the quality of rural life – children can now go to school, medical facilities are easier to access, and markets are within reach.

Challenge

India has one of the largest and densest road networks in the world. However a large part of the 2.7 million km rural road network was in poor condition and, until the year 2000, around 30 percent of the country’s population (about 300 million people) lacked access to all-weather roads. Given India’s vast diversity, each of the eight project states had varying terrain, populations, and implementation capacity, making for a unique set of challenges in each. The difficult terrain in the smaller upland states was compounded by the weak capacity of the construction industry, leading to lower quality of works and higher costs. Moreover, the remoteness of habitations and dense forest lands in the hill states of Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand gave rise to special challenges for road development.  And in Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, a difficult security situation along with local capacity issues posed major challenges.


" My husband can now cycle to the local market to sell the farm produce. My children can now go to the English-language school in town. "

Phekayen Urra

Jharkhand Villager

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Shaju John/World Bank

Solution

The projects have improved connectivity, the program’s core objective, introduced new processes and systems at the planning, design, procurement and quality management stages, and promoted asset management. Building capacity throughout the program has been a key area of the projects’ focus. 

The projects have also introduced new systems and processes that will ensure the sustainability of roads investments. These include the establishment five year performance-based road maintenance contracts, improved asset management practices, and citizen monitoring at various stages of construction and maintenance. Millions of rural people in some of India’s poorest states now have an all-weather road near their homes.This has considerably improved their access to schools, health centres, hospitals, markets, urban centres and jobs.  


" People in marriage processions used to walk through rough country paths, spoiling their wedding finery on the way. Not surprisingly, people were unwilling to marry their daughters into our village. But, things are much easier now. "

Lokni Mussamat

85-year-old-villager

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Since late 2004, World Bank support has helped build and improve some 16,000 km of rural roads. About six million people living in the remotest parts of India have benefitted. As of February 2014, around 36,000 habitations in participating states now have access to all-weather roads.  From the rough, mountainous terrain of Himachal Pradesh to the dry, rugged landscape of Rajasthan, new roads are revitalizing the rural economy, raising incomes, and improving the quality of rural life. Farmers now find it easier to take their produce to market in time, school enrollment is on the rise, and families' access to health care has improved.

The projects have brought about a paradigm shift in the way rural roads are mapped, designed, monitored, and built:

People Make the Choices: Communities concerns are taken into account at the design stage itself through the ‘Transect Walk’, where representatives of local communities walk the entire stretch of the proposed road before decisions are finally taken.  

Green Norms Established: The project has helped to lay down an environmental protection code to ensure that trees are planted along the newly built roads, steep hillsides are stabilized including through bio-engineering, and debris from construction is not left behind. In hilly terrain, debris is often used to create flat areas for community use.

Community Monitoring: The project is enhancing community ownership and involvement by helping develop a citizen monitoring framework for. Community based organizations are being trained to monitor the quality of roads being built and identify issues at various stages of construction and maintenance.  

Quality Control: The project has helped improve asset management practices which are expected to significantly enhance the sustainability of the entire rural roads program. It has also helped build the capacity of small local contractors, and better equipped government engineers to monitor quality, with exposure to global best practices in road construction.

Ongoing Maintenance Ensured: To ensure the sustainability of project investments, the project has introduced five year performance-based maintenance contracts at the end of the construction period. 


" It would take nearly 2-3 days to reach the nearest hospital as we had only camel carts to transport our sick and pregnant women and children. Many of them would die on the way to hospital. Now, the nearest hospital in Bikaner is just 2 hours away. "

Ashi Devi

Housewife

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Shaju John/World Bank

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank commenced its support to the PMGSY in September 2004 with a $400 million ($300 million from IDA and $100 million from IBRD) Rural Roads Project. The project supported the program in building roads in select districts of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

In December 2010, the World Bank approved a further $1.5 billion ($1 billion from IBRD and $500 million from IDA) for the program to continue improving connectivity, especially in the economically weaker and hill states across North India - Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.     

Partners

The projects have worked with the Government of India’s National Rural Roads Authority and State Rural Roads Authorities in the participating states. They have also partnered with NGOs and civil society groups to introduce citizen monitoring services in three project states. The PMGSY has also been supported by the Asian Development Bank.

Moving Forward

In order to ensure sustainability of the project, it will be important to assist the communities and institutions in the maintenance and management of the rural roads program.  Going forward, establishing new connectivity will become increasingly difficult as many of the easier habitations have already been connected. New rural roads will need to serve communities in more remote and difficult terrain requiring special attention to planning and implementation. Accordingly, the Bank is supporting a number of state level rural roads projects that aim to reach small habitations in remote locations, especially in the poorer states and those that face significant capacity constraints.  


16,000km
of roads have been built and improved by the project.