Connecting the red corridor: Infrastructure provision in conflict zones

This project studies how the implementation of rural infrastructure projects has affected the intensity of Maoist violence in India’s so-called “Red Corridor.” We also investigate the determinants of the successful completion of rural infrastructure projects in regions affected by Maoist violence. The challenge of bringing economic growth to communities affected by violent conflict has broad relevance beyond India.

The Government of India has repeatedly acknowledged the developmental challenges of the Red Corridor, the 80-odd districts that are heavily affected by India’s long-running Maoist insurgency. Over the past five to ten years, a set of ambitious rural development programmes have attempted to address these challenges. Under the umbrella of the “Bharat Nirman” plan, the Government of India has funded large-scale programs for road-connectivity (PMGSY), telecommunication (USOF), and electrification (RGGVY). While the Bharat Nirman plan did not target Naxalite areas in particular, the selection criteria implied that the efforts should have been particularly intense in the Red Corridor. By analyzing the dynamics of infrastructure delivery in rural communities suffering from law and order problems, our project attempts to contribute a better understanding of the potential for infrastructure provision to impact these vulnerable communities.

The Indian Bharat Nirman plan offers uniquely fertile ground for examining the impact of infrastructure projects and challenges to completing them. First, the monitoring requirements imposed by the national government led to the creation of detailed administrative datasets for each of the programmes. These data enable an explicit analysis of the implementation process. Second, the type of infrastructure delivered under each programme is very clearly identified. From a theoretical perspective, types of infrastructure projects differ in the extent to which they provide direct security benefits and require the support of the local community. These differences can be analyzed explicitly in the context of the Bharat Nirman programmes. Third, the complex interactions between different levels of government allow us to study the political determinants of successful infrastructure provision. As many developing countries are decentralizing political power, understanding the interaction between different levels of government has clear relevance beyond India.

As part of this project, we will construct a geocoded and integrated dataset on infrastructure projects, conflict incidents, and socio-economic characteristics, at the level of fine-grained administrative units. This unique dataset could facilitate a large number of future research projects on rural development in India.

By studying the link between conflict and rural infrastructure development, our project addresses a clear, economic growth constraint. The districts in the Red Corridor are among India’s poorest and they are characterised by a large share of Scheduled Tribes.1 In this context, understanding the ingredients of successful infrastructure development and its relationship with conflict is particularly important.