Pre-historic period:
The history of roads is as old as the history of man on earth. The pre-historic men traced out a narrow way for going out for hunting the food. The narrow way was as footpath or pathwayThe pathway is considered as the first road mark laid on the surface of the earth. The utility and necessity of pathway gradually developed with the introduction of wheeled carts. The pathway was widened into a roadway which was the beginning of road as a means of communication and transport.

History of highway development in India


. Indian civilization, being one of the oldest in the world (4000 to 3000 BC), witnessed the growth and development of roads along with her own development. Thus, while tracing out tracing out the history of the development of roads in India, one is to study it along with the development in the political, economic and cultural life of this country.
Roads under early Indian rulers:
Ancient history of India reveals that long long ago; Indians knew the science of road construction. The excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa (Pakistan) have established that even 3500 years BC, there was a well-designed network of roads, and streets were paved at that time.

a. Aryan period:
During the Aryan period, there are references in Rig Veda (Part 1, Para 5) about ‘Mahapaths’ as a means of communication. About 600 years B.C., a pucca road (6.1 m to 7.3 m wide) was built in Rajgir (ancient Rajagriha) of Patna district by king Bimbisara. This road was made of stones and is still in existence.

b. Mauryan period:
During this period, roads were developed on technical basis specifications were laid down for the width of roads, given to the surface of roads and the convexity of the road surface was compared to the back of a tortoise.

Artha Shastra, the well-known treatise on administration, gives a good deal of information regarding roads along with specifications adopted during Mauryan period. The book of Artha Shastra was written in about 300 years B.C by Kautilya, the first prime minister of Emperor Chandragopta Maurya.

Chandragopta Maurya(322-298 B.C.) took a keen interest in the maintenance and development of roads. He had a separate department of communications to look after the public roads. He got constructed the GT Road connecting North-West frontier with capital Patliputra, the modern Patna. He also got fixed some sign post in the form of pillars and milestones along the roadside at regular intervals.

Emperor Ashoka took a special interest in the improvement of roads and provided facilities to the travelers. Such facilities were in the form of the plantation of trees, digging wells and constructing rest houses at about 4.8 to 6.4 km distance along the roads. The famous Chinese traveler Fahien had spoken very highly of the roads of that time in the record of his travel.

Roads during the Mughal period:
The roads were very greatly improved in India during the Mughal period. Chahar Gulshan, which was written in the eighteenth century, gives an information regarding 24 important roads which formed the network of roads in India during the Mughal period. The road system in those days was considered as one of the best road systems in the world.

The road from Delhi to Daultabad was constructed by Mohamad Tughlag. Sher Shah Suri got constructed the longest road i.e. the road from Punjab to Bengal. The present Grand Trunk Road forms the greater part of the Old Shershahi road, also called Badshahi sarak. The road from Agra to Allahabad and that from Ujjain to Bijapur were also got constructed by Muslim Emperor. Many of roads, constructed during Mughal period exist even today.

Roads during the British rule:
The economic and political shifts caused much damage in the maintenance of road transportation. Thus, with the fall Mughal Empire, the condition of roads became deteriorated.

At the beginning of the British period, a number of old Mughal roads, connecting important military and business centers were metalled and some new roads were constructed by Military boards during the time of Lord William Bentinck. But the administration of roads under military boards was not a satisfactory arrangement. It was only during the administration of Lord Dalhousie that the central public works department was established to look after the construction and maintenance of roads. Later, such departments were created in other provinces also. Lord Mayo and Lord Rippon contributed a lot in the development of roads because the affairs of construction and maintenance of roads came. Later, such departments were created in other provinces also. Lord Mayo and Lord Rippon contributed a lot to the development of roads because the affairs of construction and maintenance of roads came directly under the control of Local bodies.

With the development of Railways in India, the road development received a serious setback. The work of road construction and maintenance was given a secondary importance and thus the roads gradually lost the interest of the government.

Major roads, except those of military importance, mainly centered on the feeder roads to railways. Thus, the outlook on road development was completely changed and they were considered to be only of local importance. According to Government. of India Act of 1919, the affairs of all the roads, except those of military importance and certain other roads of national importance were transferred from the central government. to the provincial governments. The provincial governments, in their turn, took over the direct responsibility of construction and maintenance of roads of provincial importance and placed the grater part of road mileage in the charge of local bodies.

After World War-1, motor transport came to the forefront which created a revolution in India’s transportation system. Under the continued effect of high-speed motor transport, the existing roads soon get deteriorated. The local bodies, with their limited financial and meager technical resources, could not deal with the situation properly and with the increased motor traffic, the condition of roads went from bad to worse. Then the central government. took the following steps towards the development of roads:

a. Appointment of Jayakar committee:
In 1972, the central government. appointed the Jayakar committee under the chairmanship of DR. M.R. Jayakar to report on the condition of the existing roads and to suggest ways and means for their future development. In 1928, the Jayakar committee recommended that since the provincial governments and the local bodies were unable to look after all the roads and therefore, the central government. should look after all the important roads of national importance.

b. Creation of central road fund:
On the recommendation of the Jayakar committee, the central road fund was enforced on first march, 1929. The petrol tax surcharge at the rate of two annas per gallon (2.64 paise per liters) of the petrol consumed by motor traffic was imposed to build the road development fund. Out of annual revenue, thus collected, 20% was to be retained by the central government. for meeting expenses on the on the administration purpose, research and the development of roads under its charge. The balance 80% of the central road fund was to be distributed among the provinces, according to their petrol consumption, for maintenance and construction of roads.

c. Indian roads congress:
In 1934, a semi-official technical body known as Indian Roads Congress (IRC) was established by the central government as per the recommendation of the Jayakar committee. This body was formed of national importance for controlling standardization, specifications, and recommendations regarding design and construction of roads and bridges. But the economic depression during that time delayed the road development programs.

After World War II, there was a revolution in respect of automobiles using the roads in our country. The road development at that time could not keep pace with the rapid increase in road vehicles and therefore, the existing roads started deteriorating fast. This necessitated proper highway planning by the authorities.

Nagpur plan:
In 1934, a conference of the chief engineers of central and state government was convened by the central government at Nagpur. It is a landmark in the history of road development in India since it was the first attempt to prepare road development program in a planned manner. That conference finalized a twenty-year road development plan (1943-1963) popularly known as the Nagpur Plan.

According to that plan, all roads were classified into four broad categories namely National Highways, State Highways, District Roads and Village Roads. It was also recommended that the central government. should assume complete financial liability for construction and maintenance of roads classified as National Highways and the construction of roads of national importance was made the responsibility of the central government.

Roads during the post-independence period:
After independence, the government. of India started taking much interest towards the development of roads in the country. The Nagpur plan targets were mostly achieved by 1960 through the first and second five-year (1951-56 and 1956-61).

The various steps that were taken by the Government. of India towards the development of roads in the country after independence are described here:

a. Central road research institute:
In 1950, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) was started at New Delhi. This institute is considered as one of the National laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in India. This institute is mainly engaged in applied research and offers technical advice to state governments on various problems concerning to roads.

b. National highway act:
In 1956, the National Highway Act was passed. According to this act, the responsibility of development and maintenance of National Highways was given provisionally to the central government.

Road development plan(1961-81):
In 1958, the next Twenty Years Road Development Plan (1961-81) was finalized at the meeting of Chief engineers of states. This is popularly known as the Chief Engineer’s Plan. In this plan, due consideration was given to the future developments in various fields of our country.

According to this Road Development Plan, the total length was almost double to that of Nagpur Plan target. This plan aimed at bringing any place in a well-developed agricultural area within 6.44 k from a metalled road 2.41 km from any other category of road.

We can hope that better organizational arrangement and through intensive future planning’s, India will not only make up the deficiency in the roads but she will lead many other countries in this respect in near future.

Paper presented at All India Workshop in IEI Jharkhand  State center on 30.04.2017


Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE Chairman IEI J&KSC, Council Member IEI

About shahishaharyar

Chartered civil engineer,Fellow institution of engineers India, Member Indian road congress,Member American society of civil engineers, Presented over 70 papers in various seminars,published books over 36 on environment,history, sufi saints, genealogy,free lance writer, travelled in India and abroad.

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