The road not taken

Zafar Madani
Well, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that India is one of the fastest developing nations today, be it in terms of industrialisation, education, health or fashion. However, there are still certain ‘basic’ domains where the country is lagging behind. The Border Roads Organisation was established a long time ago to secure India’s borders and develop infrastructure in the remote areas. Undoubtedly, BRO has done commendable job in connecting remotest of places to the rest of the country but away from highways, there exists a world where there is no road connectivity. Villagers in these nondescript hamlets are till date deprived of access to all-weather roads. They have been migrating to other cities due to cross-border firing and shelling, but the lack of road facilities still remains one of the major reasons.
Often, the rural environment is known as the development motor of any nation. Planners who are responsible for the growth of the remote areas must realise how the road provision fits into the larger objectives of rural development. It has been established that investments in rural roads lifts rural people above the poverty line. This also indicates that as the rural connectivity improves, the rural poverty levels come down. Non-availability of roads is forcing people to leave their native land. As I hail from one such remote area – Baila, a village in Mandi Tehsil of Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir, I miss my home and desire to go back to the village one day.
At times, the remoteness of habitations gives rise to special challenges for road development. The regions are often hard to access, logistics become complex, local contracting capability is limited and engineers are few and far between. However, these challenges can be easily met at least in the villages which are located only a few kilometres from Saddar Bazaar in Mandi. Due to dilapidated road networks, it takes much longer hours for people to travel from one place to another. Although several efforts have been made to extend roads in few areas but nothing concrete has been achieved so far.
Rural road networks are often set in forested areas. They are predominantly roads of gravel or earth construction. And the issue with such roads is that they deteriorate very frequently, especially during the rainy season, which interrupts the transport services, access to medical centres and markets when it is neededthe most. A local resident, Muhammad Sami, shared that whenever the rainy season hits, the road becomes so muddy and filthy that it almost becomes impossible to walk on it. Having a poor road system makes it more difficult for children like Sami to reach school on time. It gets more expensive for farmers to carry their produce to the market. Dream of several children of getting higher education remain unfulfilled due to the lack of proper roads.
As per Mohammad Farooq, a local resident, “Many unfortunate incidences have happened in the past in which several lives have been lost due to the non-availability of hospitals and other emergency services.” He narrated a story of a man – Fateh Muhammad Tantra – who climbed a tree for his produce and fell down. “When people helped him get up, his condition was quitecritical. He was rushed to the nearby hospital but unfortunately died on the way. If only there was a proper road facility, Fateh would have been reached on time and maybe his life could have been saved,” said Farooq. It is a fact that if roads in an area are well-developed and well maintained, the travelling time is reduced and access to local markets, work places, educational institutions and medical and health services are increased.
According to a report recently published on the website of Ministry of Rural Development, it is claimed that only in Jammu and Kashmir, the centre has built 1,858 roads of 11,517 km length and 84 small bridges under the government flagship programme Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana (PMGSY). It must be noted that this programme was flagged off in 2000 by the then Prime Minister of the country. In the UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, all unconnected habitations of the population above 250, are eligible under the programme. However, there remains a large population which is yet to benefit from this scheme.
In such a scenario, the question is that whether the funds earmarked by the government for this scheme in the last 19 years are being utilised properly or not, and if utilised, then why have these roads not been completed in so many years? The irony is that the ground realities show that these roads have been regularly surveyed, funds have been spent but when it comes to the actual work, it is stopped on the pretext of a minor challenge. The solution simply lies in working towards good road connectivity as it will improve the lives of the people residing in such regions. It also might result in hiked land cost, more business opportunities, increase in mobility, good transport and travel facilities.
(Charkha Features)