India's Infrastructure


A common feature of India's metropolitan and urban areas as well as rural regions is that infrastructure is inadequate and (at an average) outdated. Inherited rail and road systems as well as power generation and water supply cannot cope with population growth. Noteworthy, infrastructure had reached its capacity limits well before population growth skyrocketed. The situation in the countryside is even more critical than in most towns and cities.

Road Network

At a first glance the country boasts an impressive 3,4 m km of roads. However, only 41 % of the total are paved. National highways constitute 2 % of India's road network, while state highways contribute another 4 %. Only those national and state highways are two lanes or wider. The remaining 94 % of existing roads are narrow, mostly poorly maintained district and rural roads (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways: Road Network of India. Transport Research Office, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Delhi, India, 2006).

Between 1947 and 1997 India built only 556 km of 4 – 6 lane roads, or about 11 km per year (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Basic Road Statistics. Transport Research Office, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Delhi, India, 2006). In 1995, the National Highway Act established the National Highway Authority as well as the Central Road Fund. These bodies initiated an ambitious program of roadway construction and road modernization. From 1997 to 2005, the national highway network was expanded significantly from 34,300 km to 65,600 km. However, this notional increase exaggerates the actual extent of roadway expansion, since it resulted partly from improvements and a mere reclassification of existing roads. Most construction schemes focus on improving the links between India's most important metropolitan areas. A prominent example for such a project is the Golden Quadrilateral freeway system (about 5,850 km) that connects Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. Another major project is the North-South-East-West corridor, which, after completion, will comprise 7,300 km. Still about 40 % of the rural population lack access to all-weather roads and thus are isolated during periods of ill weather, especially the monsoon season. Although massive new roadway construction is under way, India's road network will lag far behind adequacy in terms of quality and capacity for many years to come.

Deficiencies of the road network on the national scale are reflected within metropolitan areas. Most streets in residential districts have only one lane for both directions, and a considerable portion of arterials has no more than two lanes. Only major arterial roads in the largest cities boast four or more lanes. And many of those arterials end up providing only two lanes, as curbside lanes are usually blocked by parked vehicles and street vendors.

As opposed to more developed countries India's settlement system is not yet focused on automobile use. This fact is illustrated by car ownership figures: In 2007, India had a rate of 12 cars per 1,000 people compared with 675 per 1,000 in the US. Even in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants there were a modest 14 cars per 1,000 people only. With respect to the influence of car-based traffic on city development Delhi (at least to some extent) represents an exception, insofar about 17 % of the nation's private cars are registered in the capital city. Car ownership rates are still low, but perpetually increasing. Due to the characteristics of inherited street and road patterns urban areas already suffer from severe congestion. Thus, tackling traffic problems will take long-term efforts and a high level of funding (local public transport, ligth rail systems etc!).

Rail Network

The origin of India's rail network dates back to colonial times, and the year 1853, respectively. By the time of independence the rail network was highly fragmented. In 1951 the 42 existing systems were merged, and became one of the largest national networks on a global scale. Today, next to all operations are handled by state-owned Indian Railways.

The Indian rail network boasts a total length of more than 63,000 km (Germany = 48,200). Trains transport more than 5 bn passengers and over 350 m tons of cargo per year. Only about 30 % of existing routes are electrified. Like is the case with India's roads, the long distance rail system is to be deemed outdated. Funding was – and still is – inadequate, the network suffers from outmoded communication and signaling equipment, obsolete bridges and rotten tracks. To bring India's rail network up to par with counterparts in developed countries would require an estimated 100 bn USD.

Local public infrastructure, too, does not yet meet an ever growing demand. Indeed, many major cities are running light rail networks, however, many do not. Efficient suburban rail networks exist in Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. Hyderabad's and Pune's light rail systems share the tracks with long distance trains. Kolkata and Delhi have built subways.