In a distant village of hilly state of India, Poonam, a mother of three was trekking back to her home. On that trek of 10 KMs, she met with an accident. She could have survived but couldn’t as there were no roads.
This data journalism story attempts to find out what went wrong with India’s rural roads scheme, launched in 2000, to build a network of roads to enable connectivity in all seasons, across the country. Twenty years later, only 4,000 kilometres of the planned 60,000 kilometres of the road has been built, as the data for 2020-2021 shows.
Hope has sprung in a dim and distant village Badhhu in Mandi district of the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. After the death of a mother of three and my coverage in StoriesAsia of how the inaccessibility of this village was responsible for the fatal accident, the state government has finally resolved to finish the construction of a bridge and build a road to this community of mostly Dalit people, considered outcaste in India.
The prime requirement of the story was interpreting the vast format of government data available in the public domain and through the Right to Information applications. For that, I used MS Excel, high charts.com and various other platforms to understand and formulate the data and study it. The primary requirement of data was to understand where the scheme was lacking and in which states the performance was poor. The data was to substantiate the claims.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was to find the data, classify it, understand and tabulate it. The central government’s rural roads scheme entered its third phase last December. But 46 per cent of the targets remained unmet in 2019. None of the northeastern states was able to meet even 50 per cent of the targets under Phases 1 and 2 of the PMGSY. And a fund crunch has led to work moving at a snail’s pace in Jammu and Kashmir region. The poor connectivity is a disappointing standard in most of rural India. Consider this data for 2020-2021. In Arunachal Pradesh state, only one out of the 95 target villages has a road. In Meghalaya state, 3 out of 175 villages are connected. In Jammu and Kashmir region, 25 out of 327 villages are connected. In Uttarakhand state, 20 out of 300 villages are connected. In Chhattisgarh state, 4 out of 572 target villages are connected. To carve out this data, understand it and substantiate it was the most difficult part of the story.
What can others learn from this project?
A very important aspect to take out of this story was how Covid19 pandemic inturn affected an otherwise a slow scheme. 2020 as a year was very slow for the construction of the road because of nationwide lockdown imposed in the country. This story and data produced here also give an insight on to how Covid19 dwindled the growth of the scheme where the targets remained unmet.