Modi Approves $14 Billion for India’s Rural Road Network

  • Program aims to improve road connectivity in India’s villages
  • Funding boost could lift Modi in state, national elections

A truck driver cleans the windscreen of a truck as it sits in a parking bay area of a highway service station, known locally as a highway dabba, on the side of national highway 8 (NH8) in Haryana, India.

Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to spend an additional 900 billion rupees ($14 billion) to provide road connectivity in India’s remote villages by March 2020, officials with knowledge of the plan said.

About 1.4 trillion rupees has already been spent under the program. The cost will be shared in the ratio of 60:40 by the federal and state governments, the officials said, asking not to be identified citing rules.

A boost to the rural roads program ahead of crucial state polls and a national election in 2019 may assist Modi, who has been criticized for pulling down India’s economic growth to a three-year low with his shock cash ban last November and the chaotic introduction of the goods and services tax in July.

The funds would be spent as part of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana -- a program for "all-weather" rural roads started by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. Started as part of a poverty reduction strategy, it was widely lauded for connecting isolated hamlets and allowing small businesses deliver their produce faster.

Rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha wasn’t immediately available for a comment.

The program "is now being implemented as never before" and the pace of construction of roads accelerated to reach 133 km a day in 2016-17, against an average of 73 km in 2011-2014, finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech in February.

Even though economic growth rebounded after Modi assumed office in 2014, the benefits have not been felt by farmers and jobless youth. Modi’s attempts at changing archaic labor and land laws to make it easy for businesses were labeled pro-wealthy by his critics and his party lost elections in the national capital and Bihar two years ago.

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