ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Roads : To the Global Village

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Roads are a country's lifeline. The fact, surely, has needed no reiteration for over a hundred years. So why does the report of the National Rural Road Development Committee try so hard to convince itself and its readers about the benefits of roads? It brings out vividly the deprivations caused by the lack of roads: "daily 300 women die, as they cannot reach the health care centres in time. Lakhs of rural children cannot reach schools", agricultural produce cannot reach markets on time, water tankers cannot reach needy villages, and so on. It then self-consciously lists the benefits: easy and assured access to markets, agro industries, schools, PHCs, bus stops, telephone booths, post offices as well as job opportunities and so on. Evidently, the task of building roads or achieving 'connectivity' for village India has to be shown to be an enterprise that is economically sound. It is not sufficient that villagers have the comfort of roads to go to their fields, to visit friends and relatives, to fetch water, or merely to walk on. And it is this perspective that informs the work of this important committee.

As things are the committee did not have an easy task. Of India's roads only 2 per cent are national highways carrying most of the goods and passenger traffic. The rest are badly surfaced or ill-kept rural roads. At the end of the financial year over 2,90,448 villages remain unconnected. The committee estimates that the road length for each village would be about 4 km which would mean a rural road length of 11,62,000 km. At the rate of Rs 8 lakh per km of road constructed, the cost of the project would be Rs 93,000 crore. Add to this minor bridges and culverts needed and the total cost would be Rs 1,11,000 crore. The committee proposes to set up a National Rural Road Development Authority and authorise it to raise finances through market borrowings and the issue of tax-free government bonds to supplement the central government grant of Rs 2,500 crore and the amount accruing from the diesel cess. The committee aims to bring about 100 per cent connectivity, in phases, in the next 10 years.

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