Dawn of new era!
After a long time, people of India have given decisive mandate for a new hope and better living conditions. Every citizen of the nation is entitled for compliments and kudos for the same. A new era may be witnessed for road sector in the country which has been witnessing negative growth rate in terms of development especially in the national highways segment catering the bulk of road transport. The cascading negative impact of slowness in the road sector at national level is being felt by almost all segments of economy and, therefore, it appears that steps taken/initiated and contemplated during the last few years were not sufficient to infuse right prescription required to make it vibrant again.
Time has come for carrying out serious introspection with a positive mindset to move forward by learning from failures. What are the hurdles and whether they are unsurmountable due to which this economically strategic sector lost its momentum which was witnessed during the initial years of the 21st century. Perhaps the answer may be no. There may be many issues and reasons but mostly are issues of short sightedness, system failure and poor governance. Before dwelling upon some of them on priority basis it may be preferable to understand the strength of the road sector infrastructure’s economy salvation strength.
The strategic economic importance of this sector needs a pragmatic approach to harness its true potential for a durable progress and inclusive growth of a society and country. The road sector has the potential for massive job creation not only in its own area but with every passing day it is opening up more and more opportunities for skilled and highly skilled work force in the allied areas also like material conservation, environment conservation and protection, tourism, healthcare, textiles, capital goods, automobiles, financing, etc. Therefore this sector attains a strategic importance in the social sector of job creation as well.
Can we dream of empowering people in the villages or remote areas without providing connectivity with better roads? For empowerment they need connectivity to the education/healthcare institution as well. The roads are the basic amenity and essentialities, if we have to achieve inclusive growth for every citizen of this country. The realistic empowerment of people at grass root level while simultaneously following the basic principles of food security, health security, right to education to all, etc. perhaps may not be achievable without giving due attention toward efficient road connectivity. ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ can perhaps be achieved through a Sustainable Road Development Programmeme implemented in a much faster way.
The roads are rarely considered as a means to control food inflation. However the levels of road connectivity do have a bearing on the supply chain management of the food articles. The food commodity is the basic essential need of the mankind and high inflation in this segment severely affects the majority of the population and destabilises the economic growth, which in turn impacts other activities – some to a major extent and some to minor extent. The road provides the cheapest flexible connectivity between the producing and consuming areas. The farmer can get better price especially in respect of perishable items and other agricultural products which do not require further processing. Therefore, with the help of road sector the issue of food security and price stability as well as strengthening of agricultural/allied industries can be addressed to some extent. The rural economy can be further strengthened with the help of road sector as better, efficient and safe road connectivity promotes tourism related activities besides inspiring the people to empower themselves (promotes traditional manufacturing). It may also help in balanced development of all districts and may help in developing a more vibrant and participatory democracy. Rarely the road sector is considered as saviour to environment. However, this perception needs to be changed. Roads can be game changer in environment preservation, conservation and protection efforts. With the help of road sector, more ecological friendly process, procedures, techniques and technology can be brought not only to reduce degradation of the eco-system but to create a process of rehabilitation of eco-system that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. The road sector can help in changing the entire concept of waste management in the country for which a positive and pragmatic approach as well as synergisation of efforts from all stakeholders is required duly considering that road sector has maximum possibilities of use of waste material, industrial by-products as well as municipal waste.
The positivities of the road infrastructure are many, which if adequately harnessed will not only revive the economy but take the economy towards high growth rate. The dream of ‘Sashakt Bharat’ can be achieved at an early date with the help of robust road sector development programmes. To start with, there is a need to bridge the existing gap and to utilise the synergy under different government sponsored programmes like MNREGA, inter-connectivity of rivers/creating water bodies. By interlinking such type of programmes, the optimisation of resources and productivity can be achieved while simultaneously the issue of availability of natural materials (sand/gravels, etc.), manpower availability, etc. will be addressed. Moreover, by doing so more and more people may take pride in getting involved with these national assets creation programme in the shape of roads – connectivity to all, inter connectivity of rivers – water for all, etc. like noble programmes.
The road sector requires strong and effective institutional approach which can be pro-active, pro people and transparent. In today’s scenario a paradigm shift is required towards road sector so as to revitalise and rejuvenate this crucial infrastructure sector. The issues and hurdles which are being witnessed by this sector needs to be addressed at an early date. The solutions are available, visible and within the reach but the same require change in the mindset besides institutional restructuring/strengthening as well.
A vibrant road sector may help in economy rebalancing which may include the issue of energy management, employment generation, cultural integration, robust agricultural sector, inflation and CAD control, higher savings with lessor taxation, etc. The current economic transition demands for a visionary approach in the road sector by harnessing its true potential.
The author is Secretary General, IRC