Roads: India’s path to prosperity

“A road network will tell you more about the country & it’s economy than all of it’s national & economic statistics put together. A road is not only a connector between places for commuting but also plays a major role in creating trade opportunities, generate employment, helps in geographic distribution of economic growth, promotes tourism and many more.”

How true. In modern times, the Americans realized this in 1930s and Germans in 1940s when roads were prioritized which in turn led to prosperity of respective nations.


Grand Trunk Road during British rule

If one goes further back into history, India was the undisputed leader when it came to roads & trade network and controlled more than 40% of the world’s economy. One of the earliest records is of the road built by Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC called “Uttarapatha” (A sanskrit word which meant ‘Northern Road’), connecting Taxila and Patna. The road was maintained by an army of officials of Chandragupta Maurya.

By the 16th century AD, it was gradually extended (by Sher Shah Suri) along the Gangetic Plain to Kabul in the west and Chittagong in the east. This road was was further improved by the British and was renamed “Grand Trunk Road”.

Similarly, India played a significant role in the popular “Silk Route” which was extensively used as a trade route for the lucrative Silk business which was at it’s peak in 2nd century AD.
To know more about Silk route and India’s role in it, you can watch this short excerpt from the documentary “The Story of India”:

( Review of the 6 hour documentary “The Story of India”: )

silk route

Silk Route

During the British rule, India began to witness penetration of paved roads (and not to forget, the railways also) into the village level as well which might have helped the British to easily extract wealth out of India but it cannot be denied that such roads actually helped  in shaping up of modern India.

Here is a rare footage from 1938 in technicolor (by British cinematographer Jack Cardiff) documenting a road in India and it’s usage by locals for purposes of logistics, commuting & trade during the British rule:



After independence from British rule, India embarked on socialistic policies which prioritized more towards central planning and state owned public sectors due to which trade & road networks were sidelined. In fact, for the first 50 years after independence, the govt had built less than 500km of 4-lane highways.

But things changed drastically in late 1990s for India. When the development oriented Vajpayee took over PM Office in 1998, one of his first major announcements was the 6000km highway project called “Golden Quadrilateral” which intended to connect most of the major industrial, agricultural & cultural centres of India, including the 4 metro cities.

Over the next 5 years, Vajpayee’s govt added almost 25,000km of national highways which was the highest ever in a 5 year timeframe since independence which kickstarted economic prosperity.

gujarat highway

Highway in Gujarat

Witnessing rapid growth of towns and villages adjoining the Golden Quadrilateral, Chief Ministers of several states began to adopt such a development model and one of the most successful implementation has been by the state of Gujarat, which was hailed by World Bank for it’s road network as per the following news report:

It might come as a surprise that in the 66 years of Indian Govt rule since independence, Vajyapee’s Govt ruled for just 5 years but constructed more roads than what was constructed by all other Govts combined in the rest 60 years.

In fact, the current ruling government recently admitted before the Supreme Court that Vajpayee’s Govt, in five years, constructed nearly half the total length of national highways laid during the last 32 years:

Looking back in hindsight, one can only wonder what would be the situation of the economy today if PMs before Vajpayee had taken such initiatives paving the way to India’s prosperity. Talking about recent leaders who had the guts to focus on national development, the  veteran Congressman P.V.Narasimha Rao deserves a special mention here. You can read more about PV, the forgotten hero and architect of modern India here:

A road does not discriminate commuters based on their castes or religions, and provides equal opportunities to all. Roads are India’s path to prosperity to regain it’s lost glory and India need leaders like Vajpayee who can understand the significance of roads and it’s role in economic prosperity.