Expanding Rural Network: Recent initiatives and updates under the PMGSY

The majority of India’s population resides in rural areas, which highlights the im­portance of rural connectivity and its vital role in reducing poverty sustainably and bridging the gap between rural areas, and mai­nstream economic growth and social development. In the past few years, the Pra­dhan Man­tri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has aided in enhancing access to economic and social services, promoting the connectivity of rural roads.

The primary objective of the PMGSY is to provi­de rural connectivity, by way of a single all-wea­ther road to eligible unconnected habitations in rural areas with a population of 500 and above in plain areas. The PMGSY has a three-tier quality control mechanism for ensuring the cons­truction of quality road works and durability of ro­ad assets. Despite challenges encountered, the use of several innovative green technologies is being encouraged to ensure timely completion of targets.

Progress so far

During the three-year period from 2016-17 to 2018-19, the road length constructed under the PMGSY increased at a compound annual growth rate of about 1.7 per cent. However, it de­clined in 2019-20, then again witnessed growth from 2020-21 onwards. The year 2018-19 witnessed the completion of 49,007 km of roads, the highest in the past five years. In 2021-22, 41,974 km of road length was constructed as against 36,687 km in 2020-21, an increase of around 14.5 per cent.

Under three phases of the PMGSY, a total of 18,875 km of road length has been approved in 2022-23 (as of March 9, 2023). Of this, 24,196 km of road length has been constructed so far.

As reported by the state govern­ments/uni­on territories, a total of 156,399 habitations of population size more than 250 and more than 500 as per Census 2001 have been connected under PMGSY-I (as of March 9, 2023) and 883 habitations are yet to be connected.

In the Union Budget 2023-24, the scheme has been allotted Rs 190 billion, same as the budget allocation and the revised estimate for 2022-23. This marks a 36 per cent rise from the actual expenditure in 2021-22 at Rs 139.92 billion. In 2023-24, the Department of Rural Development has been allocated Rs 1.58 trillion, which is approximately a 15 per cent decrease from the revised estimate of Rs 1.81 trillion in 2022-23.

Update on PMGSY-III

PMGSY-III was launched in 2019 for consolidation of 1,25,000 km through routes and major rural links connecting habitations to gramin agricultural markets (GrAMs), higher secondary schools and hospitals, among other facilities. Since its inception till March 7, 2023, around 99,319 km of road length has been sanctioned under PMGSY-III, of which 51,851 km has been completed. The timeline for the completion of PMGSY-III is March 2025.

PMGSY-III also involves the maintenance of roads constructed under the scheme. This will entail an estimated cost of Rs 802.5 billion for the period 2019-20 to 2024-25. The funds will be provided jointly by the centre and states in the ratio of 60:40. The ratio is 90:10 for the eight north-eastern states and Himalayan states.

Innovative developments

The PMGSY has focused on innovation in rural road management. Roads are systematically prioritised for construction and maintenance. Some of the innovative practices for the PMGSY include the use of mobile applications for quality ins­pec­tion, complaint registration and e-ma­rg for maintenance monitoring and web-based overall monitoring. The National Rural Infrastr­uc­ture Development Agency (NRIDA), with the help of the Centre for Development of Advanc­ed Computing and the National Informatics Centre, has developed an evidence-based digital platform for rural road maintenance across the co­un­try. This information technology solution for digital asset maintenance can be replicated for any infrastructure work.

The Ministry of Rural Development has ma­de a significant and historic contribution to the National Geospatial Mission by releasing geographic information system (GIS) data developed for the PMGSY in the public domain in Feb­­ruary 2022. The GeoSadak application, whi­­ch is an online geospatial transaction system that gives states the ability to upload, generate re­ports, and edit GIS data online, has further be­en developed as part of PMGSY-III, with entirely indigenous satellite data services and GIS data layers. Further, nanotechnology will be used for developing rural roads to make th­em last long, considering the heavy rainfall as an­nounced by the Tripura state government. Cell-filled concrete pavement is another technology developed by IIT Kharagpur, which has proved to be a very promising solution for overloaded ve­hicles, inadequate drainage facilities and waterlogging problems. This technology us­es re­cycled plastic and consumption of agg­re­ga­tes is reduced to almost 50 per cent when co­mpared to conventional cement concrete (CC) pavements; leading to considerable savings in the cost of construction when compared to conventional CC pavement.

Green initiatives

There has been an increasing focus on green in­itiatives to reduce the carbon footprint. Under PMGSY-III, the states have been asked to propose at least 15 per cent of the length of annual proposals under new and green technologies. Some of the green technologies being us­ed in the construction of roads are use of plastic waste, cold mix technology, cell filled con­cr­e­te, stabilisation using cement and lime, nano technology, full depth reclamation, etc. Another highlight of the programme is that more than 66,000 km of rural roads have been completed using green and new technologies. The te­chnologies have helped build roads faster and more efficiently, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and protect the environment and lower maintenance costs. Since the establishment of the project, until July 13, 2022, 117,095 km of new technology green roads have been appro­ved for construction, of which 73,792 km have been constructed.

Key challenges

The significant improvement in the rural road network through the PMGSY has also posed challenges. Some of the major challenges in en­suring maintenance of rural roads have be­en government commitment, dedicated funds, maintenance management planning, institutional re­forms, innovative maintenance contract models and involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions.

The way ahead

As the programme progresses, there has been a need to consolidate the existing rural road network to improve its efficiency, not only as a mo­de of transportation, but also as a means of promoting social and economic development. Addi­tionally, NRIDA aims to build 50,000 km of rural roads by 2030, with an emphasis on the use of green technologies.