Road Development in India during Twentieth Century

During the second decade of the 20th century, soon after the first World War the motor vehicles using the roads in India also increased and this demanded better roads. However, the roads that existed then with Water Bound Macadam' (WBM) surface and other inferior surfaces were not able to withstand the mixed traffic consisting of slow-moving vehicles and motor vehicles. The predominant component of the traffic consisted of bullock carts with steel tired wheels which could abrade, grind and even crush the stone aggregates of the WBM road surface and form dust on the road surface during the dry season; the dust on the road surface would form mud during the monsoon season. The passage of fast-moving automobiles would raise the dust behind them during dry weather and turn up the mud and deteriorate the road surface at a rapid rate during the wet weather. Due to the combined effect of the mixed traffic movement, the roads deteriorated fast during the post-war period.
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A resolution was passed by both Chambers of the Indian Legislature in the year 1927 for the appointment of a committee to examine and report on the question of road development in India. In response to the resolution, a Road Development Committee was appointed by the Government in 1927, with M.R. Jayakar as the Chairman.

Jayakar Committee recommendations
Jayakar Committee submitted its report by the year 1928. The most important recommendations made by the committee are: 
  • The road development in the country should be considered as a national interest as this has become beyond the capacity of provincial governments and local bodies.
  • An extra tax should be levied on petrol from the road users to develop a road development fund called 'Central Road Fund'.
  • A semi-official technical body should be formed to pool technical know-how from various parts of the country and to act as an advisory body on various aspects of roads.
  • A research organization should be instituted to carry out research and development work pertaining to roads and to be available for consultations.
Most of the recommendations of the Jayakar Committee were accepted by the government, and the major recommendations were implemented subsequently. The Central Road Fund was formed by the year 1929, the semi-official technical body called the 'Indian Roads Congress' was formed in 1934 and the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) was started in the year 1950.

Motor vehicle act
In 1939 the Motor Vehicles Act was brought into effect by the Government of India to Regulate road traffic in the form of traffic laws, ordinances, and regulations. The three phases primarily covered are control of the driver, vehicle ownership and vehicle operation on roads and in the traffic stream. The Motor Vehicle Act has been appended with several ordinances subsequently. The Motor Vehicles Act-1939 was consolidated and revised in the year 1988 and various laws regulating road transport were rationalized. The Motor Vehicle Act - 1988 came into force from July 1989, replacing the 1939 Act. Subsequently, certain provisions of this Act Were amended a few times.

Nagpur Road Conference and Plan
A conference of the Chief Engineers of all the states and provinces was convened in 1943 by the Government of India at Nagpur, at the initiative of the Indian Roads Congress to finalize the first road development plan for the country as a whole. This is a landmark in the history of road development in India, as it was the first attempt to prepare a co-ordinated road development program in a planned manner. Thus the First 20-year Road Development Plan' in India was finalized for the period 1943 - 63 at the Nagpur Road Conference. Therefore this road development plan is popularly known as the 'Nagpur Road Plan'. The total target road length aimed at the end of this plan period was 16 km per 100 square km area of the country.

Second Twenty Year Road Development Plan
The second 20 - year Road Development Plan for the period 1961 - 81 was initiated by the IRC and was finalized in 1959 at the meeting of the Chief Engineers held at Mumbai and the same was forwarded to the Government of India. The plan gave due consideration to the development that is actually taking place and developments that have to take place in various regions of the country in different fields during the plan period. The target road length at the end of this second 20-year road development plan was almost double that of the Nagpur road plan target i.e. a total road length of 10,57,330 km or about 32 km per 100 sq km area. An outlay of Rs. 5.200 crores for the period ending 1980-81 was envisaged for this second twenty-year plan, based on the 1958 price level.
During the third five year plan period 1961 - 66, the annual plans of the period 1966 to 1969 and the fourth five year plan period 1969 - 74, the road development in India continued at a steady pace. The total length of all categories of roads achieved by the year 1974 was 11.45 lakhs km and total the density of road length was 34.8 km per 100 sq km area. Though the total road length and density achieved by the year 1974 exceeded the 1981 target of the Second 20-Year Road Development Plan 1961 - 81, the overall condition of the roads, in general, was not very satisfactory; also the total road length reported included other categories of roads such as urban roads, project roads, and forest roads. Thus there was an immediate need to prepare the third long term road development plan for the country by then. However, due to change in planning policies during the fifth plan period 1974 - 78, annual plans 1978 - 80 and the sixth five the year 1980 - 85, the preparation of the third long term road development plan got delayed.

The third twenty-year road development plan
The Third 20 - year road development plan 19812001 was prepared by the Roads Wing of the Ministry of Transport with the active co-operation from a number of organizations and experts in the field of Highway Engineering and Transportation. This document was released during the 45th Annual Session and the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Indian Road Congress in February 1985 at Lucknow. This plan has been prepared to keep in view the growth pattern envisaged in various fields by the turn of the century. Some of the points which were given due consideration while formulating the plan are improvement of transportation facilities in villages, towns and small cities, conservation of energy, preservation of environmental quality and improvement in road safety.
The third 20 - Year road development plan aimed at increasing the total road length (including urban and project roads) from 15,02,700 km in the year 1981 to 27,02,000 km by the year 2001. This will result in an increase in road density from 46 km per 100 sq. km in the year 1981 to 82 km per 100 sq km by the year 2001. As the of National Highways fell short of the targets set by the first two twenty year road development plans, the third road plan of 19812001 has set the target length of NH to be completed by the end of seventh, eighth and ninth five year plan periods.

National Highway Act
In 1956 the National Highway Act' was passed in the country. Some of the main features of the act include powers:
  • to declare certain selected highways as 'National Highways", the responsibility of development and maintenance of which to be with the central government
  • to enter into any land for carrying out surveys
  • to acquire land and take possession for the development of the national highway 
The National Highway Act was subsequently revised and the 'National Highways Authority of India Act - 1988' was passed by the Parliament of India in 1988. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) started operating in February 1995.

National Highways Development Projects
The total length of various categories of roads in the country as per the target of the third 20-year road development plan 19812001 was 27,00,000 km. A higher road length of 31.76,000 km was achieved by the year 2000 itself. However, the length of National Highways achieved was only 57,700 km as against the target of 00,000 km and the length of State Highways achieved was only 1,24,300 km as against the target of 1,45,000 km.
Realizing the deficiencies in the national highway system in the country, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) took up the National Highways Development Projects (NHDP) by the year 2000, in different phases. Phase NHDP is called the 'Golden Quadrilateral' of total length 5846 km connecting the four major metropolitan cities. The four sides of the quadrilateral are, (i) Delhi - Mumbai, (ii) Mumbai - Chennai (via Bangalore), (ii) Chennai Kolkata and (iv) Kolkata - Delhi. This project was started in December 2000 and was planned to be completed in six years. Phase - II of NHDP consists of, (a) North Srinagar to Kanyakumari and (b) East-West corridor connecting Silchar to Porbandar, of total length 7,300 km. Additional spurs connecting some of the major industrial cities and ports were also taken up along with these projects.
Further development of selected stretches of national highways was planned in phases III, IV and V. Development of expressways was planned as phase VI and improvements of urban road networks as phase VII.

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana
An accelerated village road development program called 'Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana' (PMGSY) was launched by the central government in December 2000 to provide village connectivity with the all-weather roads. The Ministry of Rural Development was vested with the responsibility to prepare the master plans in consultation with the state governments. The objective of PMGSY is to provide connectivity to all unconnected habitations having a population of 500 and above with all-weather roads. The above population limit is relaxed in the case of hills, tribal and desert areas of the country.

Road Development Plan: Vision 2021
The fourth 20-year Road Development Plan, 20012021 should have been formulated and got approved well before the year 2000. However 'Road Development Plan Vision: 2021' was prepared by the Indian Roads Congress at the initiative of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. This vision document has considered the need for the overall development of the road system in the country. The total target length of the primary and secondary road systems to be achieved in the country by the year 2020 has been spelled out.
This document also has given special attention to road development needs in the North-Eastern region and other isolated areas. In view of the rapid growth rate of urban centers, some suggestions have been made for the development of urban road system also Tertiary system of rural roads consisting of other district roads and village roads are to be developed in order to provide all-weather road connectivity to all the villages of the country in a phased manner. Considering the importance of this subject, a rural road development plan document was prepared.

Rural Road Development Plan: Vision 2025
A separate document, 'Rural Road Development Plan Vision: 2025' has been prepared for the 20-year period 2005 at the initiative of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. District-wise rural road development plans have been prepared. This vision document targets to provide connectivity to unconnected habitations of the country in a phased manner, beyond the norms laid down in the PMGSY. Lower population limits were fixed for underdeveloped regions including hills, deserts, and tribal areas.

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