ILO and PMGSY – Road to ending poverty and creating prosperity

ILO is associated with the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) programme in India to enhance rural road connectivity and its maintenance.

Feature | 20 January 2017
It is aptly said that India lives in its villages. Around 70 per cent of India’s 1.20 billion people live in rural habitations comprising of nearly 600,000 villages. As per Reserve Bank of India’s Annual Report of 2015, India had 21.92 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. The Report further states that this percentage comprised 25.70 of rural population and 13.70of urban population. It is evident thus that poverty alleviation programmes in India are required to be directed more towards the rural population.

Firstly, it is crucial that rural habitations are accessible through all-weather roads. It will help rural population then avail opportunities of employment, health, education and various other social welfare schemes provided by the government. Good, dependable roads translate to easier and faster connectivity from farm to market, timely movement of perishable products from village to market centres, and provides incentive to industry to move to the hinterland among many other such benefits. Connectivity also encourages government functionaries such as health workers, teachers, and agriculture extension workers to willingly move to the villages to offer their services. This ultimately contributes to prosperity, and allows economies of scale and sustainable employment.

Since rural connectivity has been considered a sure-shot means of poverty alleviation, the Government of India in December 2000 launched the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). It is a centrally-sponsored plan with the primary objective of providing All Weather Road Connectivity to all habitations of 500 and above population in plains and 250 and above population in hill states, desert and tribal areas. At the time of the launch of the PMGSY programme, nearly 40 per cent habitations were disconnected as there were no All Weather Roads. Nearly 0.17 million habitations were identified which were to be provided with connectivity. In the 15 years since the inception of PMGSY, all-weather connectivity has been provided to nearly 0.12 million habitations by constructing approximately 0.48 million kilometers of roads. The pace of construction of rural roads under PMGSY has increased to 139 km per day from 70-75 kilometre per day from 2011 to 2014.

Rural roads is a state subject and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) is a one-time special intervention of the government to provide rural connectivity, by way of single all-weather road to the eligible unconnected habitations in the core network.

This phenomenal improvement of the rural road network due to PMGSY gave rise to new and growing challenges such as the increasing demand for maintenance. The benefits in terms of social and economic development resulted in addressing poverty issues. Investments made in an improved road network can only be sustained if these assets are properly maintained on a regular basis. While the Government of India acknowledged the success of this programme -- that of providing connectivity up to the last mile helping a vast population gain employment and access -- it also expressed equal concern on the sustainability of these assets.

Some of the major challenges in ensuring maintenance of rural roads have been government commitment, dedicated funds, maintenance management planning, institutional reforms, innovative maintenance contract models and involvement of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).

The Government of India sought technical assistance of the ILO that has a strong global track record in this field. The Employment Intensive Infrastructure Programme (EIIP) of ILO is one of the largest global programmes that is currently engaged in over 43 countries. The EIIP has provided tools for setting standards and facilitating policy making, developing entrepreneurship and creating social dialogue within the area of infrastructure works, particularly rural roads.

Dialogue between the Indian government and the ILO resulted in a partnership agreement in September 2012 between the National Rural Roads Development Agency (NRRDA), Ministry of Rural Development, and the ILO. This partnership focussed on providing technical support to promote good maintenance practices under the World Bank- funded Rural Road Project (RRP II) that was currently in progress in seven states (Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand). Bihar too was subsequently covered -- as the eighth state --- under RRP II.

The collaboration between NRRDA and the ILO has been a fruitful one. It has addressed rural road maintenance challenges in eight states of India. The collaboration looked at:
  • Development of a rural road maintenance policy framework at the national and state level resulting in seven out of eight states adopting their rural road maintenance policy
  • Enhanced knowledge of current maintenance practices and challenges among state agencies that were in charge of rural roads,
  • Creating standard templates for road inventory and road condition surveys along with a Rural Roads Maintenance Management Manual. This helped secure a transparent, robust and easy-to-verify system of looking into prioritization of works in the Annual Maintenance Plans (AMPs),
  • Comprehensive training material for all engineers and contractors covering the entire spectrum of rural road maintenance issues. Demonstration of innovative processes for contracting rural road maintenance works -- in the form of Performance Based Maintenance Contract (PBMC) for routine maintenance. Various models of community contracting were also put in place. Community contracting is when local community is entrusted with the task of maintaining the off carriageway activities of the road that provides all weather access to rural habitations.
  • Strategy for strengthening the capacity of PRIs for execution of maintenance works.
  • Integration of ILO’s Decent Work elements in the standard contract documents and implementing guidelines of the NRRDA.
It was tough to convince participating states to formulate their AMPs based on robust, transparent and easy-to-verify attributes and then to implement these processes through new contract models. Due to unpredictable field conditions, technical support too had to be customized so as to positively address the local challenges faced by each of the states.

The various maintenance tasks performed under the ILO-NRRDA partnership drew a lot of attention. In fact the non- participating states too now expressed an interest in the outcomes of this partnership. Today 16 states of India have formulated and notified their rural road maintenance policy. The training of engineers and contractors has been extended to cover all the remaining states of India benefitting 6,283 persons. A total of 773 master trainers have been trained in all maintenance activities throughout India.

Due to success of this partnership, NRRDA has signed an agreement with the ILO to extend the ongoing collaboration until June 2017. The new collaboration will now look at:
  • Formulation of rural road maintenance policy in remaining 13 states
  • Study innovative funding arrangements for rural road maintenance
  • Continued support to SRRDAs of RRP II states in planning maintenance tools and mainstreaming of ILO’s Decent Work elements in their operations.
  • Improved methods of planning and implementing preventive maintenance of rural road
  • Partnership with road construction industry (ICEMA)