It was the year 2007, when, in order to understand the impact of Centrally Sponsored Schemes that I along with my team did extensive field tours and impact assessment. These included Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). What fascinated me the most was the way PMGSY was being implemented. This, till date, remains the only scheme that has been implemented in a mission-mode with a complete business case and clearly defined outcomes. Little wonder, that no-one, even then disagreed with the benefits of a road. I recall a discussion with an economist friend who had suggested that, in order for my assessment to be statistically tenable, we have to find some people on the ground who do not agree with the benefits of a road connecting one village with another and all the villages with markets. Alas, I could not find a single naysayer! Statistically, my assessment failed, but sociologically, the schemes scored full marks. More than bringing the healthcare services to the villages and providing opportunities to the youth for income generation, I found the social milieu amongst villages had improved, wherein girls in marriage were given preference for the villages, which were connected. We were witness to a sick person being carried on a bullock-cart that got stuck in sludge in a small rivulet it had to cross. My team had to volunteer to give it a push. I remember the words of Bandiji Khadse, a local volunteer from Urmi Village in Wardha, who said that each time I take a patient to hospital, this is the only option. Koyli Bhai from Khedisuwa Village near Jaipur, had said that in absence of roads it is almost impossible to take an expecting mother to hospital in times of crisis. Conversely, on our return we saw a sick cow being carted on a truck. I was not surprised!
There were many like Abdul Farooq from Chakur Village in Wardha who were unemployed, but roads brought them an opportunity and he bought an auto-rickshaw, funded by a bank. Apart from the obvious benefits the PMGSY has focused on building the contracting capacity of local contractors rather than hiring contractors from outside. The quality and qualifying criteria is stringent that has helped many an entrepreneurs to build their capacities to venture into bigger projects.
While its been a decade, the PMGSY has successfully built sustainable assets – roads – the benefits of which can not be disputed, it had gone largely unnoticed that it was a small step, parallel to ambitious Golden Quadrilateral that has over a period of time brought prosperity to rural India. The credit squarely goes to M Venkaiah Naidu, who as Rural Development Minister during NDA, went against the tide to get Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to sanction rural roads. He singlehandedly worked in getting a nod from Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, state Chief Ministers who were not ready to let Centre intervene in a State subject and the Cabinet to approve his proposal. If today, the rural poverty has significantly reduced, it is because of the steely courage and determination of Naidu to have challenged poverty.
(Sameer Kochhar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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