Importance of road Infrastructure in the socio−economic growth and development: An overview of Road Development in Meghalaya.
The paper highlights the development of road Infrastructure in Meghalaya based on secondary data and the importance of developing efficient road connectivity for improving the socio−economic growth and development in rural areas.
Road is the subset of transport infrastructure that connects various places and facilitates communication between the districts, towns, localities or villages and accelerates the mobility of people, goods and services as well as trade activities. An adequate road infrastructure network also provides an advantage to a country in terms of improved regional integration, which helps to promote regional and international trade and significantly enhances the economic growth and development of that country.
Adequate and quality road connectivity in rural areas facilitates domestic market integration and helps expanding rural economy by facilitating mobility of goods and services from place to place, reducing transportation costs and improving market efficiency.
Provision of good roads reduces wastage in case of perishable items, speeds up the movement of goods and saves a lot of time. It thus helps in reducing distress sell by the poor rural farmers and also reduces regional variation in prices of goods. According to Delgado et al. (1995) the availability and quality of road infrastructure can also influence food prices and bargaining power of the rural producers.
Besides, availability of good road connectivity opens up employment opportunity in rural areas, where rural masses can have more choices to choose their employment not only within their villages but move out to nearby villages or towns as casual labour for construction of houses, buildings, roads, bridges etc. Opening up of new business ventures like food/ tea stalls, rest houses and fuel stations along the main roads or highways connecting to different villages or towns enhances employment opportunities.
Thus, investments on road can help the poor in a number of ways, and one of the most important is through their impact on the rural non−farm economy. For example, rural road investments can promote the development of small non−farm enterprises, which in turn can increase the demand for rural labour. Fan and Rao (2002) found that non−farm employment became increasingly important in helping the poor in rural areas during the post−green revolution period in many Asian countries.
There are many related literature highlighting the importance of road infrastructure in the socio− economic growth and development.
The United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS) (1985) and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) (1986) stressed the need of rural roads for development of rural economy. According to the studies extensive, adequate and efficient rural feeder
road network serves as one of the channels for the collection and movement of goods and services, movement of people and dissemination of information. It helps in the exchange of rural products as well as strengthening the socio− economic, cultural and political fabrics and processes of the rural communities. In other words rural roads provision forms an intrinsic part of rural development strategies, serving as a mechanism and catalyst for rural transformation through the reinforcement of rural development efforts. Hodder (1971), William ( 1978) pointed out that improvement of transportation, including rural roads, is said to form the most valuable aspect of rural development.
A Study by World bank (2001) showed that rural roads investment had a significant impact on Socio−economic conditions of the rural masses like improved accessibility to social infrastructure (schools and health centres), social interaction and mobility. Increased access to markets, where perishable goods could be marketed faster and at a cheaper transportation cost can increase rural income and additional employment opportunities.
Another study by Africon (2006) on the proposed rural road investment in the rural mountain areas of Lesotho aimed to obtain the views of communities with respect to the expected impact of the rural road investment on overall socio−economic conditions. The survey indicated that the proposed road investment could potentially create several short− term employment opportunities through road construction, and also long term employment opportunities through continuous road maintenance through the lifespan of the road. Besides, the survey indicated that there would be a positive impact on the living conditions of communities in the project road area like improved accessibility to work opportunities and social services.
Another study that assessed the impact of a specific road project was undertaken by Khandker, Levy, and Filmer (1994). They reviewed the impact of a road project financed by the World Bank in Morocco and found an increase in agricultural production and land productivity as well as in the use of agricultural inputs and extension services. The road project also led to a shift towards the production of high− value crops and an increase in off−farm employment opportunities. On the social front, benefits included improvements in access to health services and increased attendance at schools.
Khandker (1989) using a reduced−form estimation technique and a panel data set covering 85 districts in India over the period 1961−81, found that government investment in roads had a positive effect on crop output, rural non−farm employment, and agricultural wages, all of which were beneficial to the poor. Similar studies by Malmberg, Ryan, and Pouliquen (1997); Escobal (2001), and Fan and Rao (2002) have also explored the impact of roads on non−farm employment and the consequences for the poor. Malmberg et al. (1997) found that investment in infrastructure especially on road and other communication leads to economic growth in both farm and non−farm sectors, generating economic opportunities for the rural population in general, including the poor.
Fan et al. (1999) used a general equilibrium model to evaluate the effects of government expenditures in a number of sectors −agricultural research and development, irrigation, roads, education, rural and community development, power, health, and soil/water conservation and found that the greatest effect on poverty reduction came from roads . The study of Balisacan (2001) in 73 rural provinces of Philippines also suggested that road infrastructure endowment was the strongest predictor of successful poverty reduction. Similar study by Kwoon (2000) in Indonesia that covered 25 provinces from 1976 and 1996 found that poverty was most sensitive to investments on road, followed by education, agriculture, and irrigation .
DEVELOPMENT OF ROAD NETWORK IN MEGHALAYA
In Meghalaya, road network is the only form of transportation that connects the state with the rest of the country and also areas within the state to one another. The importance of developing an efficient road network is paramount for linking the villages to markets in the state and outside.
The road density per 100 sq km in Meghalaya was 36.66 km on 1st April 2008 which was far below the national average of 100 km per 100 sq km. About 60.10 per cent of roads are surfaced and the remaining 39.90 percent are still un−surfaced roads. 2578 numbers of habitations out of total 5782 habitations in the state are yet to be connected by motorable roads.
Total length of National Highways in the state is only 793.044 km which comes to 3.54 km per 100 sq km only. Out of the total length of National Highway in the state 414.71 km is single lane and 41.28 km is intermediate lane that needs improvement and widening to double lane standard. About 74 percent of the total road length consists of village roads, other district roads and major district roads.
The road density in the state in 2001−2002 was 426.46 per 1000 sq km (below the national level which is 1026.24 per 1000 sq km) and 4.15 per 1000 population (above the national level which is only 3.28 km per 1000 population). Though, road density per 1000 population is high, but quality wise it is very poor compared to national level (NEC, Secretariat, 2002)
In Meghalaya almost 50 per cent of the villages still remain unconnected by all weather roads. It reflects the poor quality of road connectivity in the State. According to Meghalaya Human Development Report 2008 the table on the next page shows the road infrastructure in the district of Meghalaya.
For the districts in Meghalaya, the percentage of villages connected by pucca roads has definitely increased since 1981. In 1991, 27 per cent of the villages in Jaintia Hills was connected by pucca roads followed by East Khasi Hills at 24 per cent. In the rest of the
districts only about 12 per cent of the villages were connected by pucca roads. The other districts have a very low percentage of villages connected by all weather roads ranging from 10 per cent to 19 per cent.
Thus, road connectivity both in terms of quantity and quality vary across the districts and villages in Meghalaya. Besides, there is also variation in socio−economic development across many villages in different districts in terms of agricultural and non−farm income, health and education, prices of the various products and wages of the rural households. Most of these villages are identical in many aspects, except the accessibility to various facilities through well− developed road networks or communication facilities.
The over all development of road network in the state is not so impressive. No doubt, there is slight improvement which needs to be emphasized. looking at the importance of road infrastructure in enhancing socio−economic development in rural areas. So, in this perspective it is imperative for the state government to give more emphasis in the development of road infrastructure at all district levels. Development of efficient road connectivity is not only a prerequisite for the development of local economy but it is also a necessity to enhance accessibility of the rural people to health care and higher education facilities that are available at the block and district headquarters.
Thus, provision of adequate and good quality road connectivity will definitely increase productivity and improve the quality of life of rural masses.
Africon (2003). Technical Audit of feeder roads, full and accessibility improvement works. Balisacan,A.M. (2001). Pathway of poverty reduction: Rural Development and transmission mechanisms in the Phillippines. Paper prepared for the Asia Pacific Forum in Poverty, Manila, Asian Development Bank. Delgado, C.L., Hopkins, J.,Kelly, V.A.,Hazell, P., Mckenna, A. A.,Gruhn,P.et al. (1995). Agricultural growth linkages in Sub−Saharan Africa. IFPRI Research Report No. 107. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.