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Complete? These roads ‘built’ under PM’s scheme in India don’t exist, says study by US, French varsities

  • Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters
    Photo : Dennis C J / Research Matters

Around 500 all weather roads, listed in the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana’s (PMGSY) monitoring data as being ‘complete’, and has been paid for, have never been built in reality, finds a new study. This study, by researchers from the Princeton University, New Jersey, USA, and the Paris School of Economics, Paris, France, has suggested that political corruption, and not a lack of resources as thought, is the main reason for the lack of roads connecting remote areas in India.

The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) is a central government funded scheme started in 2000 by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The scheme was aimed to provide good road connectivity to unconnected villages across the country. Of around 172,000 villages that were meant to be connected under the scheme, reports suggest that only 82% of the work has already been completed, with the rest estimated to be completed by 2019.

However, this study has found gaping inaccuracies in the status of the scheme, with many roads never being built! The study suggests that political corruption, due to local politicians favouring road contractors within their own social networks, is the reason behind this. "Our results indicate that corruption in this program directly harmed the 857,000 villagers whom the missing roads were meant to serve," said Jacob N. Shapiro, the lead author of the study, in a press release.

Although, political corruption, by its very nature, can be very hard to prove, the researchers studied the phenomenon by looking at proxies for political corruption. For example, the researchers looked at surnames of the current Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the contractor who was awarded the road-building contract. As Indian surnames are linked to caste, religion and geographic prominence, surnames were considered as a good proxy for estimating the chosen politician’s social networks.

The study also observed that although the PMGSY scheme was well designed to check political corruption by keeping the contractor selection decisions away from local politicians (MLAs, MPs), these local politicians were still able to sway decisions in their favour. The study suggests this could be because the social networks of the politician could also include connections with the regional bureaucracy that awards the contracts. Here again, the increased likelihood of corruption was seen when a district-level official overseeing the PMGSY scheme shared his surname with the elected politician. However, when a bureaucrat was up for promotion and was facing a heightened scrutiny, there was noticeably less corruption.

So, what can help? The researchers say putting the power to decide on contracts back into the hands of elected representatives could improve the situation. “If voters held their politicians responsible for the services delivered under PMGSY, the MLAs would have an incentive to limit corruption", the researchers opined.