Roads, a concealed contributor for economic growth !

The most common argument of any citizen in our country is “They lay roads only when it's election season”, “These roads are never laid properly”, or “These roads barely sustain a single downpour”. Roads are an integral part of our lives regardless of us, noticing it or not. As the rivers shaped the greatest civilizations of the world, today at the brink of water scarcity, it can be affirmed, ‘The tar rivers’, are shaping the greatest economies of today’s world.

How could one relate the term road to economic development?

Needless to say, history boasts its economic prowess through its roads – The Silk Routes. It connected eastern Asia with its western counterpart. This route was the internet of those days, where almost all the products were available for trade. Goods like gold, silver, horses, camels, glass-wire, and woolen blankets went to the east while silk, tea, dyes, porcelain, rice, and gun-powder went to the west. And nothing went for free. Either it was barter or some kind of monetization was involved. Not only goods but also culture, ideas, science, and technology. The history we read would have not been the same if it were not for the Silk Routes. Apart from the economy, all the other transfers were the by-products of search for economic prowess. The trade was the main aim and to reassure the fact, one can suffice by just reading the name of the route – The Silk Route. Surprisingly it was not ‘The Cultural Route’ or ‘The Plague Route’ – where some researchers believe The Silk Route was the main reason for plague in the European countries in the 1340's. Who are we to judge? We have something similar to take care of ourselves, right now.

A cinematic reference from the film Cars would supplement the fact that, ‘roads shape economies’. Economically prosperous town of Radiator Springs located on the U.S. Route 66, lost its glory and charm to become a silent and desolated neighborhood. Thanks to the newly built Interstate highway, helping vehicles bye-pass the city, along with them the economic opportunities they used to bring to the city. The adverse effects of how the economy changes through the mere act of building roads is simply astonishing. Though this is a cinematic reference the events described about Route 66 are true. The change in the economy was so apparently visible that a very famous website says and I quote, “People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System”. But now Route 66 is removed from the US highway system and is present as a museum to showcase the prosperity it once with-held. Still, there is no point in crying over the lost economy of one place while a new one is being built somewhere else. But the emphasis is on, ‘How roads play a part in the changing economy?’.

It is not, ‘all international examples and no Indian examples’. The idea to write an article on this topic did not just appear from thin air. It was something that I’ve seen and thought about for some time now. A personal experience that intrigues me to date.

To access the main road from my house there are only 2 routes. A shorter one –totally damaged and uncared of and a longer one –freshly laid and well maintained. The economic growth on the latter road in the past couple of years can be termed - “Exponential”. One could easily spot a new firm being established every month or the other on that route. On the contrary, the prior mentioned road has lost quite a few establishments and caters to a very small audience or neighborhood who have no other option but to use the damaged road. Moreover, these establishments lose on to a very large potential customer base, which prefers to take the longer route. A decision purely attributed to the condition of the roads. So once again it is the roads that have played its fair share in determining where and to whom the money goes.

Roads have the capability to manipulate the economy’s flow. So laying roads is not just a gimmick to convince the citizens, the fulfillment of commitments made by the ruling party to the people nor are these an unnecessary expense, where funding requires to be diverted to other issues. Every kilometre of that 58,97,671 km of tar laid, up-hold the economy ‘on its shoulders’ both literally and figuratively. So any road laid could kill an economy at the same time rebuild it somewhere else and it is the responsibility of the citizens, bureaucrats, and politicians, who must be careful in understanding the importance of roads and its ability to shift the economy.

As a postscript, I would like to mention the inner thoughts of some readers (if it had ever occurred) who may ask, “Well so what? The Silk Road is something of the past. How can you say roads really shape the current economy through an example from the past?” Well if the Chinese govt. had thought so, why is it spending $1 trillion to rebuild The Silk Route? If it were not for trade, what potentially could it be for? Do I need to write another article on the topic “Roadways not only for Economic Growth?”

Article by

- Aushwath S S

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