Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi:
The Indian government’s flagship programme for building rural roads, the PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), was launched in the year 2000 with an aim to connect the unconnected rural habitations with its highway road network. Over the years since, the programme has delivered half a million kilometres of roads connecting about 120,000 habitations at a cost of over US$ 20 billion. Envisioned under India’s infrastructure driven development paradigm, the programme has now acquired its own life. Initially conceived as temporary road building programme with set target rural habitations, the PMGSY is likely to become a permanent programme with changed mandate and rationale for upgrading rural roads. Over the long period of its implementation, the massive programme has spawned and cultivated a large network of road building service providers: contractors, technocrats and knowledge producers.
This paper traces the history of ideas and rationales contributing to this vision of “roads for rural development” in India, and the genesis of PMGSY. Roads have been promoted as “roads for inclusive development.” The World Bank has led this discourse from the forefront, relying on its experiences of implementing rural road building programmes in other parts of the world. This discourse is also informed by knowledge inputs from credible research institutions in support of building roads for inclusive development. In India, it seems there has been interesting convergence of endogenous ideas along similar lines, which provided an impetus for their internalization and emergence of the PMGSY. The paper uncovers this convergence of ideas underlying the prevailing cultures of road building for rural development in India.