Transport Infrastructure Should Reflect People’s Needs and Priorities

village road

While social sector gets a lot of attention from the perspective of people’s needs, infrastructure doesn’t get the same attention from this perspective. However it may be both useful and interesting to look at whether the allocations for infrastructure reflect the real needs and priorities of people.

Here we consider this question for the transport sector by looking at some allocations in the latest union budget for the financial year 2024-25 in India. (one crore =10 million)

National Highways Authority of India—Rs. 168464 crore

Metro Projects—Rs. 21335 crore

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana ( PM Rural Roads Scheme)—Rs. 12000 crore

Research, Training, Studies and Other Road Safety Schemes—Rs. 272 crore

Railway Research—Rs. 72 crore

While analyzing this data, we must remember that the PM rural roads scheme is not the only scheme for rural roads although this is the main scheme in the union budget for this.

Even so, it is significant to know that the budget for the PM rural roads scheme, which is classified as a core scheme, is only about 7% of the budget for the National Highways Authority. The budget for the most important scheme meant for roads of over half a million villages is much less even than that of the metros of a few big cities. Research for roads and railways both is clearly underfunded.

We may also look at some recent trends. In the case of the rural roads scheme, the Budget Estimate (BE) for the previous year 2023-24 was Rs. 19000 crore, compared to 12000 crore for 2024-25. Last year there was also a cut of Rs. 2000 crore while preparing revised estimate. In the case of Highways Authority and Metros there is some increase if we compare the budget estimate of the latest year with the budget estimate of the previous year. In the case of the allocation for ‘Research, Training, Studies and other Road Safety Schemes’ the BE in 2023-24 was 330 crore while in the latest year this has been reduced to Rs. 242 crore. Last year also while preparing revised estimate there was a cut of Rs. 74 crore, from Rs. 330 crore to Rs. 256 crore.

Clearly there is need for rethinking regarding some of the priorities of the transport sector, keeping in view the real needs of the majority of people. It has often been pointed out that the travel needs of the poorest people and migrant workers who often travel in very difficult conditions do not get adequate attention while there is a lot of extravagant spending on some highly expensive projects which serve mainly the top income groups. All these factors should get very careful attention of the authorities. It will be really good if in the final budget to be presented layer this year the government introduces some schemes which really meet the needs of poorer sections and migrant workers for reasonably comfortable, low cost and entirely safe journey.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and a Day in 2071.       

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