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Roads: From the horse dung on Britain streets, to Progressive India

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Rakesh K
An IT Infrastructure Consultant, passionate about Indic History.

London under 9 feet of manure

In the 1800’s the cities around the world were growing at a rapid pace and the transportation system was fully depended on roads for the movement of goods and people. The only efficient means to make the transportation mobile were the mighty horses.

By late 1890’s, on any given day; there would be about 50,000 – 55,000 horses on the streets of London, while in bigger cities like New York it would be 100,000 horses. This created a huge problem in the cities with 0.8 to 1 million KG of dung per day and potholes full of urine.

Soon the panic might have been triggered and as in the mid 1890’s the Times Newspaper heading read,

“In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under 9 feet of manure.”

With the arrival of commercial motorised vehicles, all the problems disappeared by early 1910’s.

Zero-Corruption to Corruption:

After India’s Independence, there was no major investment in the core Infrastructure development like roads. The newly formed government by Mr. Nehru, failed to recognise the need of good road network and relied on the colonial era roads leading only to major Sea Ports and Business Centres; which was focused to transport goods and loots outside India and not for reach in the remote villages.

Nehru had poor insight of the economic planning. This was evident from the fact that when JRD Tata supported a nationalist party as an opposition to replace the communist party for a free economy and healthy development – Nehru questioned JRD’s decision. Nehru even went on to say; “Never talk to me about the word profit, it is a dirty word”.

When Naval Hormusji Tata wanted to develop South Mumbai and attempted to contest elections in 1971 made Indra Gandhi very furious.

When JRD started doing business, there was hardly any black money and corruption, but it slowly started to enter the system due to lack of governance and no government control on the economy.

The short-lived Shining India:

During 1999 – 2004, the Infrastructure investment got a big boost, with project like “Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojna”, “National Highways Development Project” & “Golden Quadrilateral” – thanks to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee & his team.

Sadly, due to the coalition gov & re-election in the mid-term, most of the projects were stalled or delayed until the Shree Atal Vajpayee government fell in 2004, after which most of the infrastructure projects failed to materialise, while few running at snail pace, when the average road built per day reached the worst i.e. 6 – 9 KM / day between 2009 – 2014.

Towards Corruption Free Development:

As per the Global Competitiveness Report by WEF, India struggled to climb in the Quality of Road ranking but post 2014 the ranking steeply rose to 51-55 range & the rating broke the 4.0 level.

Though the ranking in 2006-2007 was good due the earlier investment; the rating was very poor, indicating that the quality of roads being built was not as per standard & it degraded until 2014.

Development of quality roads in India, clearly depicting a rise after BJP took over the government

When NDA lead by Shree Narendra Modi, formed the government at the centre in majority – under the leadership of Nitin Gadkari, an immediate approval was granted to the much-needed strategic road project – that was ignored since independence i.e. construction of 1800-km of highway along the China border in Arunachal; at an estimated cost of over ₹40,000 crore.

In 2015, the central government launched Bharatmala Pariyojana, to build 83,677 km of new roads at an estimated cost of ₹5.35 lakh crore (US$74 billion).

Until March 2018, 10,000 km of highways was already completed. The road construction had reached 27 km/day (3 times higher than pre-2014). By Dec 2019, 34,000 km of new road is expected to be completed.

Bogibeel Bridge in Assam over the Brahmaputra river is a perfect example to explain the cycle from start to completion. The Bridge was sanctioned in 1997-98 but the construction was inaugurated only in 2002 by Late Prime Minister Vajpayee to be completed by 2008.

The actual work started in 2011 i.e. 4 years after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh granted it a national project status. By 2014 the cost escalated to ₹4,996 crore (US$700 million) from the original ₹1,767 crore (US$250 million).

To avoid further delay, Nitin Gadkari approved additional ₹964 crore. The project was completed on a fast track on 2nd Dec 2018 & inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi on 25th Dec 2018 on the birth anniversary of Shree Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Bridge not only shortens the time to travel by Rail (lower deck) & Road (upper deck) but also strong enough for the movement of army tanks & even landing a fighter jets on the upper deck. This gives a big boost to the India’s security at the border with China.

Slowly, we will bid goodbye to ordinary road projects – Anil Manibhai Naik, group chairman, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) – DNA 14 Jan 2019

Sources: Historic UK, The Tata Group: From Torchbearers To Trailblazers by Shashank Shah.

Header Image: Bharatmala Pariyojana Project presentation from National Informatics Centre (NIC)

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Rakesh K
An IT Infrastructure Consultant, passionate about Indic History.

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