Discussion Paper: Rural Roads and the SDGs
All the trends and patterns put together in this paper have long-term implications for incomes and new livelihood opportunities not merely for the farm and off-farm sector but also for a range of people who directly or indirectly depend on the rural road network, and constitute new classes of stakeholders in the network, including industry, service sector, those who access local labour markets, primary producers including mining and quarrying; as well as manufacturers of consumer durables and consumer products.
Rural Roads are proven poverty reducers by providing access to basic services, reducing vulnerabilities and providing opportunities. The actual paths and mechanisms linking rural road development to enhancements in incomes and reduction in poverty are often complex and necessarily location-and-context specific. Improved roads and infrastructure can help reduce poverty by expanding earnings opportunities through easier access to markets and technology. The poor, like the others may benefit from these changes; but greater commercialization, rising land values, and shifts in growth across local farm and non-farm sectors may also hamper economic opportunities for very poor households, particularly where the initial level of social development is low.
Rural roads do not, of course, reduce poverty on their own. Rural roads can and do, catalyse and synergise complementary enabling and supportive policies and strategies, across a whole range of sectors. For best outcomes, these need to be devised and tailored to the situation of each area, its resources and infrastructure keeping also in view specific issues of gender and socio-economic segmentation. These complementary policies would need to address issues of access to credit, raw materials , marketing services, skills, training, and open up opportunities closer to villages. Rural roads would, by improving local mobility, facilitate greater community participation and building of social capital, catalyzing latent entrepreneurship. It is an instinctive understanding of this potential that created the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) programme1 in the year 2000, to construct new all-weather rural roads to some 1.78 lakh unconnected villages; the world's largest rural road construction project, and still easily the most popular government programme in India.
This Paper attempts to use the SDGs as an analytical framework to understand the role and potential of the rural road network. Rural roads and the complementary policies and strategies in fact have impacts not only on poverty, but on many other socio-economic and human development indicators, and almost all of the SDGs. Most of the impacts are positive, and even those with negative consequences can be managed for reducing adverse impacts.
This paper attempts to use the SDGs as an analytical framework to understand the role and potential of the rural road network in not only poverty reduction but generally in sustainable development. Over the last decade and more, huge investments have been made in rural road construction all over the country. This is an opportunity to leverage rural roads to their full potential for the achievement of the SDGs. The analysis in this Paper indicates that in the rural areas of India, not only must those responsible for achieving each SDG leverage the potential of the road connectivity for the purpose at strategy and implementational stages, but the authorities responsible for rural roads must make institutional, policy and management improvements in order to ensure that rural roads have the best potential for the purpose. Implementation of the following main recommendations which have embedded facilitatory processes would seem to be the necessary first steps.