//Rural infrastructure pegged at Rs 1.58 cr

Rural infrastructure pegged at Rs 1.58 cr

New Delhi, PTI :

With the cost of providing improved road, water, telecom and power infrastructure to rural India pegged at a whopping Rs 1,58,313 crore, a Tata-sponsored study has proposed that the government subsidise private players to encourage investments in basic amenities for villagers.

Home to 70 per cent of the country's population, rural India requires Rs 92,690 crore (at 2002-03 prices) for providing telecom connectivity, Rs 55,243 crore for power supply, Rs 5,892 crore roads and transport and Rs 4,488 crore for water and sanitation, the study said.

The India Rural Infrastructure Report, sponsored by Sir Ratan Tata Trust and prepared by the economic think-tank NCAER, said resolution to infrastructure bottlenecks suffers from the fact that while infrastructure in villages is largely owned and run by the government, its funds are constrained.

On the other hand, private funds are attracted to areas where rates of return are at least reasonable.

Resolving this contradiction requires a Public-Private Partnership model, where the Government provides subsidies to the private players commensurate to the level of development required in particular rural area, the report suggested.

The study highlighted that nine-tenths of rural households do not own telephones, half do not have domestic power connections and even the connected households are without power because of outages for almost 17 hours a day in monsoon months and 13 hours a day in other months.

The report said half of all people living in habitations away from a main village do not have access to all-weather roads and although almost all rural households are covered by a source of drinking water, the quality and quantity of water actually available is often low because of poor maintenance and operation, the report said.

Almost eight-tenths of rural households have no access to sanitation facilities, it said, adding that as many households had no access to sanitation facilities.

The report advocated greater decentralisation of regulation and ownership, greater reliance on user fees to recover costs and provide for sustainable operation and maintenance, and greater use of micro-finance to build demand for services.

Low per capita income and density of settlement pose infrastructure problems different from those of urban areas, the report said, highlighting the differences.

"Thus, for example, complicated and expensive piped water supply and sewerage systems, which may be cost effective in cities, are inappropriate for rural areas," it said.

Rural areas, of course, pose some severe obstacles to the expansion of infrastructure, the report said, adding that populations are scattered, so conventional networks are often too expensive and inefficient to be practical.

Incomes are low, so households are often reluctant to invest their limited resources in the vehicles, telephones, electric appliances or other equipment that could take advantage of new infrastructure developments.