Washington: Subtle corruption in India has increased the chances that roads meant to connect isolated areas to the rest of the country would never be built, even though the government had paid for them, a study has found. Researchers at Princeton University in the US and the Paris School of Economics in France used an innovative technique to examine the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).
The study, published in the Journal of Development Economics, found that almost 500 all-weather roads listed in the road programme’s monitoring data as having been completed and paid for were never built.
The researchers connected these “missing roads” to “political corruption” — specifically, to local politicians steering road contracts to favoured businesses in their own social networks. “Our results indicate that corruption in this programme directly harmed the 8,57,000 villagers whom the missing roads were meant to serve,” said study lead author Jacob N. Shapiro, professor at Princeton.
To seek evidence of corruption, Shapiro and his colleagues looked at thousands of elections for members of the legislative assembly, or MLAs.
They analysed the degree to which road-building contracts shifted to contractors who shared the new MLA’s surname.
Since Indian surnames are closely linked to caste, religion and geographic provenance, surnames serve as a proxy for the politicians’ social networks, researchers said.
They found that after a close election, the share of contractors whose surname matched that of the political winner rose more than 75 per cent, from about four per cent to about seven per cent.
Next, examining data for 90,000 roads contracted by PMGSY, Shapiro and his colleagues sought roads that had been paid for but apparently did not exist.
k“We found that road contracts allocated to politically connected contractors were significantly more likely never to be constructed,” Shapiro said.