Building Rural Roads to Prosperity in India

Article | 3 June 2014

Improving roads that connect vulnerable and isolated communities to schools, services, and markets is key to development in India.

Approved: July 2006
Closed: October 2009
About 2 million people
About 2,900 kilometers of rural all-weather roads were built or upgraded
Percentage of families living in poverty fell by 4.6% in project villages, versus 2.8% in non-project villages
The number of children completing grades 5 and higher rose by 8%
The number of children receiving no education fell by 4%
Use of public buses and taxis rose by 50%

A community hospital in Chandanpur, in eastern India, is busier than ever. The 16-bed hospital is doubling in size to handle an influx of new patients. More than 100 patients come to the hospital each day, double the number of previous years.

More people can visit the hospital because the surrounding area now has improved roads to remote villages in the countryside. Safe, paved roads that can be used in all-weather conditions mean that people who once suffered at home, or died in transit, can now reach modern medical care.

"More and more pregnant women prefer to visit the hospital now for the delivery of babies," says Prakash Chand Mahate, a doctor who works at the center. "This has reduced the maternal and infant mortality rates by up to 25% in the region."

"Health workers have also been able to achieve a 100% immunization rate in many villages now that they can be reached by modern roads," says Prakash.

"Lives are being saved," he adds. "Ambulances can now reach the villages where there was no road in the past."

The importance of good rural roads

The lives are being saved through the ADB-supported Rural Roads Sector II Investment Program, which helped the Government of India improve roads in the countryside.

"Bad roads make people poorer. It's as simple as that."

- Lee Ming Tai, a senior transport specialist at ADB

Having a poor road system, particularly in the countryside, makes it more difficult for children to go to school and more expensive for farmers to bring their produce to the market. Bad roads adversely affect people in countless other ways.

"Bad roads make people poorer. It's as simple as that," says Lee Ming Tai, a senior transport specialist at ADB. "Building and repairing roads make a powerful impact on people's lives in the rural areas."

In India, the neglect of the rural road system in recent years has deprived many rural communities of the economic opportunities that cities in India have enjoyed. Many small towns are poor, and young people are being driven to go to large cities to find jobs.

In response, the project improved the roads in some of the poorest areas in India.

"The project focused on being socially inclusive and gender-responsive by helping the poor through improved access to social and economic services," says Tai.

Connecting people to markets and services

The ADB-supported project helped about 2 million people, mostly the poor in rural areas, by providing modern roads to 1,503 communities in the states of Assam, Odisha (formerly Orissa), and West Bengal. About 2,900 kilometers of all-weather rural roads were built or upgraded under the project.

The improved roads enabled people, particularly women, to find jobs, commute to work and schools, and go to clinics and hospitals more quickly and safely. It also encouraged farmers to grow higher-value crops, and enabled them to transport their produce faster, keeping it fresh and in good condition.

As a result of the project, farmers in the area made more trips to the market than before. The number of visits made by government agricultural extension workers to farming communities increased threefold, bringing much-needed expertise and other help to farmers.

After project completion, the distance traveled to work by people in the area increased by up to 10%, but the time it took for them to get to work was reduced by up to 60%.

This positive effect was confirmed by the increased use of public transportation. The use of public buses and taxis increased by 50%, while trips by minibus rose by 150%.

Increasing enrollment rates

At the public elementary school in the village of Khamar, students faced huge obstacles trying to get to class during the monsoon season. As the roads into the village were flooded, boats had to be used to get to the school or some students just stopped attending school.

Since the new road has been built, students from neighboring villages have been able to walk, ride bicycles, or take a bus to school even when it is raining.

"Before the road was constructed, there were only 40 students in the school," says Keshav Chander Pradhan, a 40-year-old teacher at the school. "Now, we have 70 students on our rolls."

This article is an excerpt from a longer piece originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.