The government’s efforts to develop rural infrastructure have been particularly intense in the 90-odd districts affected by Maoism. How successful has implementation of flagship infrastructure programmes been in these areas? This blog finds that disruption of programmes by Maoists, as reported by newspapers, is not nearly as pervasive as one might think.

Unprecedented investment in rural infrastructure has been at the heart of the Government of India's strategy to bring economic development to India's rural population. These development efforts have gained particular importance in the 90-odd districts that are affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The affected regions are among India's poorest, they are characterised by a large share of scheduled tribes, and they suffer from severe gaps in rural infrastructure provision. In this context, understanding the ingredients of successful infrastructure development and its relationship with the conflict is particularly important. While the Centre's flagship programmes did not target Naxalite areas in particular, the selection criteria implied that the efforts were particularly intense in the Red corridor.

The affected regions are among India's poorest, they are characterised by a large share of scheduled tribes, and they suffer from severe gaps in rural infrastructure provision.

Of course, the provision of infrastructure to regions affected by an insurgency brings with it particular challenges, and the disruption of flagship schemes by the Maoist movement has received regular coverage in the press. Maoists are reported to disrupt the roll-out of certain types of infrastructure, in particular those that are complementary to the activities of security forces (roads and telecom). Moreover, Maoists are regularly reported to extort money from contractors.

How successful has implementation of rural infrastructure projects been in Maoist-affected areas?

To answer that question, we constructed two unique datasets (Shapiro and Vanden Eynde 2015). The first covers thousands of conflict incidents at the village level since 2001. The second brings together geo-coded data on hundreds of thousands of individual infrastructure projects enacted through four of the Government of India’s flagship rural infrastructure schemes: mobile phone connectivity under the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), rural roads under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), rural electrification under Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), and flexible small-scale infrastructure under the Integrated Action Plan (IAP). Our data reflect the enormous scale of these programmes: 7,353 telecom towers were built by the end of 2011, 102,627 unelectrified villages were connected to the grid between 2005 and 2012 under RGGVY, 349,178 km of roads were built to unconnected habitations between 2001 and 2013, and more than 23,000 IAP projects were implemented in LWE-affected localities. We define localities to be ‘LWE affected’ if they experienced at least one incident related to Maoist groups between 2001 and 2013.

Limited evidence for disruption of infrastructure projects by Maoists

Using these data we find that the kinds of disruptions reported by newspapers are not nearly as pervasive as one might think. Projects in non-LWE localities are disrupted as much as those in LWE localities, possibly for different reasons. Specifically, we do not find any evidence that Maoist events make villages more or less likely to have qualified for coverage or for a tower under USOF, a new PMGSY road, or electrification under RGGVY. We also find limited evidence of disruption of roll-out in Maoist affected localities. For USOF, LWE localities do not experience higher delays or cancellations. For RGGVY, projects appear to suffer longer delays in affected villages (for extensive projects) and in affected districts (for intensive projects), but completion does not appear to be affected. For PMGSY, more violent districts and villages are similarly characterised by longer completion times, although projects are not significantly less likely to be completed. Surprisingly, average costs per km appear to be lower in Maoist-affected areas. This result could be a consequence of selection: if only the easiest roads get sanctioned or completed in Maoist-affected areas, the observed roads could be cheaper. Similarly, in the absence of quality monitoring, the quality of roads may be poorer in Maoist-affected districts.

There is some evidence of delays, but no evidence of under-targeting, lower completion, or higher costs.

Of course, development projects are not rolled out in a security vacuum, and the performance outcomes could reflect the activities of police forces as well. Still, the correlations allow us to dismiss the most pessimistic scenario in which security threats are so severe that development projects cannot be run in economically vulnerable communities affected by Maoism. In the most optimistic view, our analysis points at effective implementation, possibly as a result of adequate security provision by police forces. There are two alternative views that are more pessimistic. First, the administrative data we use might not capture the lower quality of projects completed in LWE localities or is manipulated. This interpretation would be consistent with the lower costs reported for PMGSY roads in conflict zones. Second, development projects could be tolerated by Maoist groups because they benefit by extorting money from the contractors completing the project. The latter scenarios cast doubt over the contribution of these projects to improvements in law and order.

Directions for future research

It is important to keep in mind that these correlations may not imply causal relationships, and our future research agenda will attempt to investigate the timing and direction of these patterns in more detail. Still, the bottom line is that we find limited evidence for disruption of flagship infrastructure programmes by Maoists. There is some evidence of delays, but no evidence of under-targeting, lower completion, or higher costs.


This blog first appeared on Ideas for India