There is a startling contrast in the pace of infrastructure development between rural and urban India. The cities are experiencing swift development changes while in rural areas things remain static.
The India Infrastructure Report 2006, to be released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday, shows the disconnect between the two Indias.
In the four sectors — telecommunications, power, roads and transport and water and sanitation — studied by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), the quality and quantity of service has been found to be substantially lower than in cities.
The report has urged policy-makers to provide incentives to the private sector to involve itself in rural areas.
High monthly rentals (between Rs 90-150) and poor service quality has restricted rural teledensity to 1.67 per cent as compared to 25.90 per cent in urban India. Of the ten states studied, only Kerala, Punjab and West Bengal have more than one public call office in a village. The reason is that those in villages are not willing to spend money on private connections. This explains why the national per capital annual telecommunication expenditure is only Rs 2.9.
The story in West Bengal is different. The Grameen Sanchar Society has provided wireless phones through its rural vendors with an assurance of quality service. A fixed percentage of revenue goes to the government and the rest to the Society.
Punjab tops the NCAER list with 99.87 per cent power connectivity in village homes compared to just 17.82 per cent in Orissa. Punjab's monthly expenditure on power is also the highest at Rs 219 while Tamil Nadu with a high power connection penetration rate spends Rs 39 per home. This could be because Punjab has many more metered connections than Tamil Nadu, the report said.
The report is critical of power subsidy in the rural sector, which has prohibited the private sector from taking over distribution networks.
Water and sanitation
Most villages get water but the report has raised doubts over the quality and sustainability of the supply. For example, 2,17,000 villages have water quality problems. Excess fluoride, arsenic, nitrate, iron and salinity are causing health hazards. Sanitation is no better with only Kerala and Punjab fount to be satisfactory performers.
The report reveals that the villagers who spend on water get better quality and example of this is Kerala. There piped water connectivity is 100 per cent per capita as the per capita monthly expenditure on drinking water is Rs 22, highest in the country.
Roads and transport
Only 55 per cent of villages are connected by roads. "The lack of roads means that 20-30 per cent of the agricultural, horticultural and forest produce gets wasted because it cannot be transported to marketing and processing units," the report said.