Roads Connect Villages to Opportunity in Central India

Feature | 22 April 2013
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In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where poverty levels are among the highest in the country, new all-weather roads connect rural people to healthcare, and to the broader economy.

By the numbers

 
152 minutes
travel time saved from home to district headquarters
93 minutes
travel time saved from home to the nearest hospital
86 minutes
travel time saved from home to the main bank in Madhya Pradesh
79 minutes
travel time saved from home to the nearest market in Madhya Pradesh

Source: Project Completion Report (Appendix 11) 2011.


Sehore District, Madhya Pradesh - Tractors, schoolchildren on bicycles, delivery men on overloaded motorbikes, and three-wheelers groaning with fresh vegetables are all a common sight on the 4.6-kilometer (km) road from Muhali village to the nearest town, Sehore.

Three once-isolated villages - Muhali, Shekhpura, and Wahidganj - in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh State, Central India, are now connected to the Sehore market, and to schools, colleges, hospitals, and other modern amenities.

These villages, like all other villages in the state, are being connected by all-weather roads, in accordance with the guidelines laid down in India's Rural Roads Program, launched in 2000.

Bringing traffic to the hinterland

Poor road connectivity has been a main underlying cause of poverty in India, impeding economic growth of India's rural areas. In support of the government's Rural Roads Program, ADB approved a $400 million loan for Rural Roads Sector I Project in November 2003. At that time, about three quarters of people in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, two of India's poorest states, lived in rural areas that, for the most part, did not have all-weather roads. Many relied on earth tracks, unsuitable for motorized traffic and impassable during the rainy season.

"The project has connected rural communities in the two states to markets, district headquarters, and other centers of economic activity leading to overall socioeconomic development of project villages," said Hun Kim, country director of India Resident Mission of ADB.

When the project was completed in 2009, a total of 9,574 km of rural roads had been constructed, directly benefiting 3,207 towns and villages, or about 11 million people. Between December 2006 and December 2008, in sample project villages, the number of households living below the poverty line decreased by 4.7%, 1.8% more than in villages not affected by the new roads.

"By providing connectivity with educational institutions, health facilities, technology, and markets, [roads] open up a whole new world to rural communities."

- Aruna Sharma, additional chief secretary, Rural Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh

"The rural road network has ensured that villages are linked with high quality roads, irrespective of population," says Aruna Sharma, additional chief secretary in charge of Rural Development for the Government of Madhya Pradesh. "By providing connectivity with educational institutions, health facilities, technology, and markets, [roads] open up a whole new world to rural communities."

Making the grade

Twelfth grader Priya Berai, 17, travels to and from school by bus from Shekhpura to nearby Chandbad. Because transportation is more reliable now, parents are more willing to send their children, especially daughters, to schools and colleges in neighboring towns. ADB estimates that bus fare on the project road has been reduced by about 11%, since vehicle-operating costs have decreased, given the smooth ride on the new roads.

Prem Narayan runs a private bus service for children of farmers from Muhali village to the Chandrasekhar Azad Higher Secondary School in Sehore. Before the road, "absenteeism was high among both students and teachers," he says, "especially during the rainy season when roads were unsuitable for motorized traffic."

"Today with higher enrollments, I transport around 40 students in my bus each trip," says Narayan, "and cover a distance of 8 km in one hour with stops for pick up."

Life saving care

"Polio immunization for young children has become possible, and supplies of iron and vitamin A for pregnant women, along with food supplements for severely malnourished infants, reach the village through the government (health services) network."

- Krishna Sawhney, 40, healthcare worker

Thanks to the roads, rural healthcare in Madhya Pradesh, where nearly all births take place in government healthcare facilities, has also improved.

Krishna Sawhney, 40, a health worker who has been in charge of a preschool childcare center in Muhali for the past 15 years, says the new road from Sehore to Muhali has reduced deaths in delivery and helped improve the health of local children.

"I'm thankful for the regular visits from health workers from the Primary Health Center," she says. "Polio immunization for young children has become possible, and supplies of iron and vitamin A for pregnant women, along with food supplements for severely malnourished infants reach the village through the government (health services) network."

The pulse of the market

In Muhali, connectivity has boosted farmers' incomes by increasing the amount of produce they can take to the market to sell and getting there faster and more smoothly has meant less spoilage on the way. .

Before the new road, farmer Kamal Singh would only go to market rarely, and then, he carried his 25-30 kg loads on his head. Now Singh transports up to 3 metric tons of grain by tractor to the wholesale marketand uses the tractor to carry back the fertilizer he needs.

"Due to faster access to the market, I can get a better price for my crops," says Singh, 35. "Now, with frequent trips, I can feel the pulse of the market and sell my goods only if I get a good price."

In the past, Singh cultivated only one crop per year - wheat - on his 1-hectare farm in Shekhpura. His family consumed most of what he produced. Now, thanks to his interactions in the market in Sehore, Singh has learned modern cropping techniques from other farmers, who inspired him to expand his wares. He now produces two or three additional cash crops every year, such as soya, pulses, and sugar cane, which he sells in the market, boosting his income.

Many others are also benefitting from better roads. Ashok Gaur, 32, is secretary of the government-run dairy cooperative, the Doodh Samiti Shekhpura, which supplies an average of 400 liters of milk per day to Bhopal. He manages the day-to-day operations of the cooperative, including transporting the milk in a tanker to Bhopal, nearly 40 kilometers east.

"The days are gone when we used bullock-carts to transport the milk, which would often spoil on the way in hot weather," he says.