I recently had the opportunity to listen to Mr.Ravi Kant, Vice-Chairman of Tata Motors and turnaround specialist extraordinaire address a forum of business people. What I have written here is inspired by a few remarks he made about economic development in rural India. It made me think, and caused me to further explore the topic he raised.
Key foundations of economic development in India are communication and transportation. In simple terms, what India needs badly are more roads. Believe it or not, the country has come a long way with road development – from 10 km of new roads per year a few decades ago to 1000 km per year today. But, of course, it also has a long way to go.
Sure, there is an obvious need to expand the national and state highways, but that is not where I would like to dwell today. Instead, I would like to probe the implicit and significant need to connect the villages of India by road.
Here are just a few reasons why this needs to happen:
- Roads in India carry 90% of passenger and 65% of freight traffic today
- Yet, 40% of Indian villages do not have access to roads! Just think about that.
- Further, rural areas in India are home to 70% of its population. Think about that too!
- Rough calculation. That means about 336 million people do not have access to roads?! Hard to believe that that is the case in the 21st century, what with India shining and all. 😦
I have run out of exclamation marks, so let me move on. Let’s imagine one villager without access to a road that leads from his village to somewhere. Here’s what I see – someone who is isolated from the rest of the region and world, existing within his small box, probably an agriculturist, most probably living in an ancient time with ancient thinking and with little hope for much growth in any shape or form (or to conceive what that might be!).
Now, let’s imagine that his village gets connected with a single road. By having the ability to move out of his restricted enclosure, what does he have to look forward to? How about the following –
- New knowledge on what is happening outside his box
- Trading of his goods or services beyond his small village
- Schooling for his children
- Modern medicine and healthcare for his family
- Expanded thinking, for example, perhaps growing more produce to take to a larger market
- Access to goods and services that he did not even know existed
- Contact with different people and hearing new ideas to build new awareness
- Access to communication – radio, telephone, TV, and therefore to an even larger world and landscape
- Contemplation of a better future