It has never been India’s best-kept secret why the first few spells of monsoon showers leave behind kilometres of potholed roads. But on Wednesday, the acknowledgement came straight from the head of government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"Corruption in road construction projects has spread like cancer to every corner of our vast country," Singh said, counting corruption and lack of quality assurance as the "major reason" for "poor quality roads".
The Prime Minister’s remarks came at the launch of a two-day conference on rural roads on Wednesday under the government’s flagship programmes, Bharat Nirman and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.
"I am concerned about the fact that we invest crores of rupees every year on road construction and maintenance, and yet with every monsoon our roads get worn," he said. Singh went on to "hope" that the two rural projects could be implemented "without this affliction (corruption) and in a transparent and accountable manner".
Statistics compiled by the Centre indicate that most states were good at spending the allocated funds but fell way behind in meeting targets. The government has not explained the mismatch that could vary from leakages that Singh referred to or just bad planning.
Singh certainly isn’t the first one to ring the alarm bell over corruption in the road construction sector.
Anti-corruption advocacy group, Transparency International, has long counted public works including transport infrastructure sector to have one of the highest probability of bribery. A TI study also demonstrated that public works like roads were likely to be of poor quality, cost more or take longer to complete, or both, if contractors had to pay off people.
This is why a 2006 World Bank paper took up road administration in India to explain politics and corruption in infrastructure projects and made a case study of National Highways Authority of India engineer Satyendra Dubey’s unsuccessful attempt to blow the whistle on corruption in the highway project. His allegations were investigated only after he was murdered.