Building infrastructure in Bihar: Roads Need Urgent Attention

M Shamsur Rabb Khan

Editor, Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur

Travelling about 50 km via NH2 from Aurangabad to Dobhi was no less than a joy ride. It always feels great when we experience something convenient for the people like the Golden Quadrangle. However, once I entered the Gaya city, I woke up from the dreamy El Dorado that my country would become one day. Now I was, it seemed, on a real plane with uneven and rickety roads with deep ditches and broad pits having covered with filthy mud waters at places. The man pulling the rickshaw had a better idea how, when and why to take turns, speed up or take brakes, and I believe any new customer on the pedal would surely find it difficult to crawl on a snail pace, as road was hardly visible due to muddy water overflowing over it.

Pix: Manish Sinha

Riding on rickshaws is highly risky in cities of Bihar, especially in the night when there is a blackout or dimly-lit way ahead. The most difficult question for pedestrians is how to walk properly on slippery roads and encroached pavements where any wrong step could lead you in a shallow shit, if not deep. The glaring truth about road infrastructure is mingboggling, as most of the roads that I found to be in utter dilapidated conditions asking for immediate repairs, and those near the market places are covered with piles of rotten spinaches and peels of various fruits and vegetables.

This is not the case of one city only: equally dilapidated conditions of roads (MDR) are to be found in Nawadah, Jehanabad, Bhagalpur, Sitamarhi and Biharsharif cities where people seem to be contented with bad roads and unhygienic environment or think it to be their fate. They wait for the government to do something, while the government does on its own pace or rather no pace. We, the citizens too, are equally to blame for the bad conditions of roads. At least, we can go for complaints and frequent asks so that inert officials and insensitive leaders could do a bit, if not much.

Sometimes back when India was reeling under the malarial and dengue fever onslaught I wrote a mail to the district magistrate, Gaya to have stroll round the city, it is another matter he did not even bother to make a reply, leave alone the remedial efforts. The drains are still full of filth, not cleared for months and breeding grounds of mosquitoes. So, another endemic breakout would not be a surprise.

Years of misrule has mad a mess of roads in Bihar, both rural and urban roads on which the number of vehicles continues to rise every year, in addition to population. At peak hours, one can witness the absolute bedlam at every important crossings and junctions in cities. Crowds of vehicles are found to be beeping and honking for ways, which are not there because of the squeezing spaces filled with hurrying commuters and cycle riders aided and abetted with open drainage. Shouts, shoves and skirmishes are normal; even traffic policemen are found to be either missing or become the mute spectators.

Pix: Manish Sinha

And what about the village roads? The less said the better. I wondered how a jam-packed bus with a big crowd on the roof was speeding towards Narhat on uneven gravel way called road! And I wondered how people venture to travel in such risky conditions. One road, for example, from Harihargunj to Aurangabad - a distance of 30 km - that I travelled are highly dangerous by any standards. On hired Maruti, journey was headachsome, while via bus it was painful, because I could see the unlimited crowd left no space for breathing. And after such an exhausting travel, you are completely bankrupt - physically and mentally. I pity the daily goers, for whom it is no less than a sheer bravery, but an act borne out of helplessness.

Significance of Infrastructure
Infrastructure plays an important part in economic development of a state. Road is the chief means of communication for short distance travels. Bihar has 2318 km of National Highways, 4192 km of State highways, 12,579 km of district roads and over 69000 km of other roads. South Bihar has extensive network of roads linking major industrial locations in the state. The state would also encourage private sector involvement in maintenance of roads and bridges.

Table-1 Road Lengths in Bihar





























Source: Government of Bihar

Though Table-1 shows that there is no kutcha road in cities (MDR), they are no better than even kutcha roads either, if they happen to be smooth. The glimpse of road construction work was visible in parts of rural area about 40 km from Daltangunj. Oh, but that is Jharkhand now! I realised later.

Bihar can boast of 4/6-Lane Super Highway under the Golden Quadrilateral Project, which covers Mohania, Sasaram, Aurangabad, Sherghati and Bhaluachatti, while the East-West Corridor passes through northern districts such as Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Phulparas, Forbesganj, Araria, Purnea and Kishanganj. The state has quadrilateral entry for the movement of goods and passenger traffic. While we can boast that the Indian road network is the second largest in the world, and the total length of roads, which was 4 lakh km in 1950-51, increased to 33 lakh km in 2006-07, repair works have found least attention.

Better roads hold greater significance for the rural areas of Bihar. According to a World Bank Report of 1997, it is estimated that 15 percent of crop produce is lost between the farm gate and the consumer because of poor roads and inappropriate storage facilities alone, adversely influencing the income of farmers. A study of infrastructure development says that development of transport and communication infrastructure enhances the mobility of people and information through reduction in cost and time. The resulting increase in interaction contributes to changes in attitudes and human capital development. In addition to facilitating agricultural commercialisation and diversification, rural infrastructure, particularly roads, consolidates the links between agricultural and non-agricultural activities within rural areas and between rural and urban areas.

A USAID report says that the ex-poste study of the effects of rural roads improvement in the Philippines revealed improved economic social and human services indicators, as a result of improvement in rural roads. The gross household income increased by 28 percent primarily due to cheaper and more reliable transport, cheaper farm inputs, higher farm gate prices and large share of major crops sold directly in markets. There was increased non-farm employment, better access to education, health and farm management services, improved recreation facilities and information flows.

In a new dawn of good governance that the people of Bihar have started smelling with the arrival of the new government, the expectations are high. What is needed is the focused approach towards infrastructure development, especially betterment of means of communication, among others, which would ultimately fetch investment to the state. And this is one area in which people have least intervention; it is the government that would help build roads. There is but truth why all roads lead to Rome. Let us pause for a while.


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