There is no gainsaying the fact that there exists a close link between rural connectivity and growth, be it in the area of trade, employment, education or healthcare. Infact a lack of proper roads in a State is a reflection of its poor socio-economic indices. Though the last five decades have witnessed an increase in the length of rural roads, 40 per cent of Indias villages , numbering over 2.5 lakh, still remain unconnected. The situation clearly warrants a nationwide network of all-weather roads in the rural areas.
The Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee during his Independence day address to the nation this year had announced a centrally sponsored scheme, called the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), with the objective of connecting all habitations with the population of over 1,000 persons by 2003 and those with a population of 500 and above by the year 2007 through good, all-weather roads.In the absence of no uncovered habitation of this population size in a State , smaller habitations may also be covered, subject to the minimum population size being 500. In case of hilly/desert tracts, this may not be less than 250.
The programme was launched by the Prime Minister recently on 25th December, 2000. An investment of about Rs. 60,000 crore over a period of seven years would be involved in the programme. For the current financial year Rs.2,500 crore has been provided . Fifty percent of the Cess on High Speed Diesel (HSD) has been earmarked for this Programme The programme would go a long way in reducing poverty apart from improving the rural infrastructure. It would lead to creation of employment opportunities and better economic conditions in the villages.
The primary focus of the Programme will be on construction of new roads. However, upgradation (to prescribed standards) of existing roads will be permitted to be taken up under the Programme so as to achieve connectivity through good All-weather roads. In taking up upgradation, the population norms indicated above will be adhered to. Upgradation would involve conversion, depending on the need, of Gravel roads / Water Bound Macadam (WBM) roads to Black-Topped (B.T.). Extension of existing roads to the SC/ST Habitation in the village would also be covered under this. The Programme will cover only Other District Roads (ODRs) and Village Roads (VRs). The Rural Roads to be taken up will, by and large, be surfaced roads (black topped / cement concrete). However, depending upon the soil conditions, all-weather roads may also be Gravel Roads, but with all necessary cross- drainage structures.
Suitable agencies (having a presence in all the Districts and with established competence in executing time-bound programmes), will be identified by the State Governments/UTs to be designated as Executing Agencies. At the district level, the Programme will be planned, co-ordinated, and implemented through the Executing Agencies. A Programme Implementation Unit (PIU), entirely directed towards this Programme, will be set up in all the concerned districts. The State Governments will establish suitable linkages in this regard with the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs). Funds would be released to the concerned DRDAs for the year 2000-2001. The PIU will formulate a Master Plan for each Block indicating the Habitations in that Block and the existing status of road connectivity, including the proposed new construction as well as roads requiring upgradation. Roads under construction under other Schemes such as RIDF ( Rural Infrastructure Development Fund), the erstwhile BMS(Basic Minimum Services), externally- aided projects or State/ District Sector Schemes should also be clearly specified. This shall thereupon be integrated into a District Master Plan, to be called the District Rural Roads Plan. The Plans so prepared would be subject to close technical scrutiny so as to arrive at the most economical cost of achieving the targets of the Programme and would also indicate the spacing of execution of works. The Master Plan would be approved in the Governing Body of the respective DRDA, taking into account the views and suggestions of the local Members of Parliament and Members of State Assembly. Subsequently, the Master Plan will be forwarded to the State-level Standing Committee, set up by the State Government , to ensure close and effective monitoring of the Programme. Upon approval by the said Standing Committee, the project proposals would be forwarded by the State Government to the Ministry of Rural Development.
At the Central level, the Project proposals received from the State Governments would be considered by an Empowered Committee whose recommendations would thereafter, be submitted to the Minister of Rural Development for further approval. On clearance of the Project proposals, the relevant projects would be executed by the PIUs and completed within a period of nine months, from the date of approval; in exceptional cases, this period may extend up to 12 months.
The road works, including the Cross Drainage works, will be executed as per the technical specifications prescribed by the Ministry of Surface Transport / Indian Roads Congress. The Ministry of Rural Development will, in due course, issue further Guidelines in this regard. Special care will be taken in coastal areas etc. to see that the shoulders are duly consolidated. Use of locally available material, including products like Fly Ash, should be encouraged subject to adherence to technical norms. The roads must have proper drainage facilities. The bridges may be so designed as to serve, where feasible, as Bridge-cum-Bandharas. No lead charge would be payable for transportation of soil (except in case of Black Cotton soil).
The roads constructed under this Programme are expected to be of very high standard, requiring no major repairs for at least five years after completion of construction. Planting of fruit bearing and other suitable trees, on both sides of the roads, would be one of the contract conditions. The Ministry of Rural Development will indicate the design of a logo, road borders and all relevant information and these will be duly installed.
Supervision and Quality Control
It will be the prime responsibility of the PIU to make certain that the work done (and all the materials utilised in the same) conforms to the prescribed specifications. Periodic inspections of works will be carried out by the Competent supervisory Authority/ies of the Executing Agency.
The Ministry of Rural Development would evolve a suitable software for an "On-line Management & Monitoring System". The State authorities are advised to equip the PIUs with necessary Computer Hardware to enable on-line monitoring. Besides the Ministry will in co-operation with the Nodal Department for the Programme at the State Level organise suitable Training Programmes for the PIU personnel.
Maintenance of Rural Roads
The Rural Roads constructed /upgraded under this Programme will be maintained by the concerned Panchayati Raj Institution (District Panchayat/ Intermediate Panchayat). The concerned Panchayati Raj Institutions would need to be identified while submitting the project for approval and the State Authorities will be required to furnish an Undertaking that they would remit (to the identified Panchayati Raj Institution), from the State Government funds, the requisite cost of maintenance. The State Governments will also offer an Undertaking for the release of maintenance costs, alongwith their project proposals. The Ministry of Rural Development would oversee the implementation of this undertaking.
The Union Minister for Rural Development, Shri Venkaiah Naidu while speaking recently on the occasion of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty emphasised the need for integrated rural development for poverty eradication, and called for development of communication network to bring the villages into the main stream and provide employment opportunities. It would end the isolation and improve productivity as well as access to markets and market information, he added.
Efforts will be made to involve local peoples participation in the maintenance of Rural roads. It is hoped that the Programme once completed will transform the lives of 30 crore people through roads that would bring change, employment and growth. Further, the programme would enable 10 crore rural poor to cross the poverty line.