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India - Infrastructure

Transportation is a large and varied sector of the economy. Modes of conveyance for goods range from people's heads (on which loads are balanced) and bicycle rickshaws to trucks and railroad cars. The national railroad was the major freight hauler at independence, but road transport grew rapidly after 1947. Both rail and road transport remain important.

The share of transportation investments in total public investment declined during the period from the early 1950s to the early 1980s; real public transportation investment also declined during much of that period because of the need for funds in the rest of the economy. As a consequence, by the early 1980s the transportation system was barely meeting the needs of the nation or preparing for future economic growth. Many roads, for example, were breaking up because of overuse and lack of maintenance; railroads required new track and rolling stock. Ports needed equipment and facilities, particularly for bulk and container cargo; and at many airports the national civil airlines needed supporting equipment, including provision for instrument landings. The government planned to devote 19 percent of the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1992-96) budget to transportation and communications, up from the 16 percent devoted to the sector during the seventh plan.

Although there is a large private-sector involvement in transportation, government plays a large regulatory and developmental role. The central government has ministries to handle civil aviation, railroads, and surface transportation. Counterpart agencies are found at the state and union territory level. Critical to improving the entire transportation sector in the late 1990s is the ability of the sector to adjust to the central government's national reform initiatives, including privatization, deregulation, and reduced subsidies. The sector must also adjust to foreign trade expansion, demographic pressures and increasing urbanization, technological change and obsolescence, energy availability, and environmental and public safety concerns.


India's railroad system is the government's largest public enterprise. Its route length extends 62,458 kilometers. The railroads of India are the fourth most heavily used system in the world, which suggests the large investment made in rail transportation. In the mid-1990s, the railroad system employed 1.7 million people and carried around 66 percent of India's goods traffic (some 350 million tons in FY 1992) and 40 percent of passenger traffic (3.7 billion passenger journeys in FY 1992).

Indian Railways is administered and managed by the Railway Board, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Railways. The minister of railways is assisted by the minister of state for railways. Indian Railways is Asia's largest railroad system and the second largest state-owned system under a single management in the world. The 62,458 kilometers of route-length track run in three gauges: narrow gauge (610 and 762 millimeters), meter gauge (1,000 millimeters), and broad gauge (1,676 millimeters). Around 17 percent, or about 11,000 kilometers, of all gauges is electrified, and about 27 percent, or 10,859 kilometers, of the broad-gauge track is electrified. Some 14,600 kilometers are double or multiple tracked. As of FY 1991, there were some 116,000 railroad bridges and some 7,100 railroad stations.

The railroad system is divided into nine zones: central, eastern, northern, northeastern, northeast frontier, southern, south-central, southeastern, and western. As of FY 1993, Indian Railways had 1,725 steam, 4,069 diesel, and 2,012 electric locomotives; 3,444 electric multiple-unit coaches; 30,298 conventional passenger coaches; 6,163 other passenger cars (including luggage and mail cars in which passengers sometimes travel); and 337,562 freight cars of all kinds.

The Eighth Five-Year Plan provided for a Rs45 trillion investment in railroad development. Priority was to be given to track and roadbed renovation, additional electrification, conversion of high-use meter-gauge lines to broad-gauge track, the replacement of all steam locomotives, and improved signalling and telecommunications. By 1992, however, the funds actually approved by the government were only 80 percent of the eighth plan's amount, and only 42 percent would be covered by the central government budget. Indian Railways was expected to come up with the balance. Thus, in FY 1994, the outlay was set at Rs65.1 billion; Rs11.5 billion was to come from central government revenues, Rs43.1 billion from internal railroad resources, and Rs10.5 billion from loans. Some of the investment funds, as in the past, were expected from the World Bank. The only way to cover these outlays with such low budgetary support was with drastic increases in fares and rates in passenger service. In FY 1993, Indian Railways made capital expenditures amounting to US$2 billion for items such as new rolling stock, new line construction, track renewal, and electrification.

An example of the scale of new rail line construction is the new broad-gauge high-speed Konkan Railway, a 760-kilometer coastal connection between Bombay and Mangalore featuring fifty-five stations, seventy-three tunnels, 143 major bridges, and some 1,670 minor bridges. The line crosses several mountain ranges and runs some 380 kilometers through an earthquake-prone zone. Besides opening up an all-weather transportation infrastructure between two important cities, it cuts the distance by rail between them by 1,127 circuitous kilometers.

India has a major railroad-equipment production industry. Although some state-of-the-art electrical components and equipment are imported, India is developing sufficient industrial capacity to meet most of its standard locomotive and passenger-car and ancillary equipment needs and has made plans to export locomotives. The Research, Design, and Standards Organisation of Indian Railways engages in research and simulations aimed at further improving the quality of domestic achievements, which have included high-speed passenger trains (up to 140 kilometers per hour) and freight trains (up to 80 kilometers per hour) and solid-state signalling equipment. Because some two-thirds of the nation's freight is carried by train, there is a serious freight car shortage. To overcome this and other industry-related rail transportation problems, Indian Railways envisions having to import up to 5,000 freight cars a year.

Road System

India has nearly 2 million kilometers of roads: 960,000 kilometers of surfaced roads and more than 1 million kilometers of roads constructed of gravel, crushed stone, or earth. Fifty-three highways, just under 20,000 kilometers in total length, are rated as national highways, but they carry about 40 percent of the road traffic. To improve road transportation, significant efforts were begun in the 1980s to build roads to link major highways, to widen existing roads from single to double lanes, and to construct major bridges.

These road-building achievements represent an impressive expansion from the 1950 total of 400,000 kilometers of roads of all kinds, but more than 25 percent of villages still have no road link, and about 60 percent have no all-weather road link. These statistics, however, mask important regional variations. Almost all villages in Kerala, Haryana, and Punjab are served by all-weather roads. By contrast, only 15 percent of villages in Orissa and 21 percent in Rajasthan are connected with all-weather roads. The quality of roads, including major highways, is poor by international standards. Nonetheless, roads carry about 60 percent of all passenger traffic.

The central and state governments share responsibilities for road building and maintaining roads and for some transportation companies. The Ministry of State for Surface Transport administers the national highway system, and state highways and other state roads are maintained by state public works departments. Minor roads are maintained by municipalities, districts, and villages. Still other roads, about 22,000 kilometers in total in 1991, are under the jurisdiction of the Border Roads Development Board, a central government organization established in 1960 to facilitate economic development and defense preparedness, especially in the north and northeast.

Ports & Maritime Transportation

India has eleven major seaports: Kandla, Bombay, Nhava Sheva, Marmagao, New Mangalore, and Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) on the west coast, and Calcutta-Haldia, Paradip, Vishakhapatnam, Madras, and Tuticorin on the east coast. The port at Nhava Sheva, located across the harbor from Bombay Port, was established in 1982 under the administration of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust as a separate port rather than an adjunct to Bombay. The eleven ports are the responsibility of the Ministry of State for Surface Transport but are managed by semi-independent port trusts overseen by boards appointed by the ministry from government departments, including the navy, port labor and industry, and ship owners and shipping companies.

In order of gross weight tonnage conveyed annually, Bombay, Vishakhapatnam, Madras, and Marmagao are the most important ports. In addition, there are some 139 minor working ports along the two coasts and on offshore islands administered by local, state, or union territory maritime administrations. Total traffic at the eleven major ports increased from 107 million tons in FY 1984 to 179 million tons in FY 1993. In FY 1993, some US$250 million in profits were earned, an achievement that attracted some US$4.5 billion in foreign investments in the ports in FY 1992-FY 1993.

In 1995 there were three government-owned shipping corporations, the most important of which was the Shipping Corporation of India. There were also between fifty and sixty private companies operating a total of 443 vessels amounting to 6.3 million gross registered tons, more than 300 of which were 1,000 gross registered tons or more. Indian tonnage represented 1.7 percent of the world total. Overall, the share of Indian vessels in total Indian trade is around 35 percent. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of capacity is underused. As a result of the global slump of the late 1980s, shipping companies experienced financial difficulties; the leading private shipping company, Scindia Steam Navigation Company, collapsed in 1987. The collapse left most Indian shipping under public ownership. The government's director general of shipping provides oversight for all aspects of shipping.

India has four major and three medium-sized shipyards, all government run. The Cochin Shipyards in Kochi, Hindustan Shipyard in Vishakhapatnam, and Hooghly Dock and Port Engineers in Calcutta are the most important shipbuilding enterprises in India. Thirty-five smaller shipyards are in the private sector. Drydocks at Kochi and Vishakhapatnam accommodate the nation's major ship repair needs.

In addition to its coastal and ocean trade routes, India has more than 16,000 kilometers of inland waterways. Of that number, more than 3,600 kilometers are navigable by large vessels, although in practice only about 2,000 kilometers are used. Inland waters are regulated by the Inland Waterways Authority of India, which was established in 1986 to develop, maintain, and regulate the nation's waterways and to advise the central and state governments on inland waterway development.

Civil Aviation

Air transportation is under the purview of the Department of Civil Aviation, a part of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism. In 1995 the government owned two airlines and one helicopter service, and private companies owned six airlines.

The government-owned airlines dominated India's air transportation in the mid-1990s. Air India is the international carrier; it carried more than 2.2 million passengers in FY 1992. Indian Airlines is the major domestic carrier and also runs international flights to nearby countries. It carried 9.8 million passengers in FY 1989, when it had a load factor of more than 80 percent in its fifty-nine airplanes. Analysts, however, attributed this high load factor to a shortage of capacity rather than efficiency of operation. A major expansion was planned for the 1990s, but an airplane crash in 1990 and a pilots' strike in 1991 damaged the airline, which carried only 7.8 million passengers in FY 1992. Two other accidents in 1993, plus several hijackings, put constraints on the growth of both airlines.

A third government-owned airline, Vayudoot, was also a domestic carrier in the early 1990s. It provided feeder service between smaller cities and the larger places served by Air India and Indian Airlines. By 1994 Indian Airlines had taken over Vayudoot. Another publicly owned company, Pawan Hans, runs helicopter service, mostly to offshore locations and other areas that cannot be served by fixed-wing aircraft.

In 1995 India's six private airlines accounted for more than 10 percent of domestic air traffic. Both the number of carriers and their market share are expected to rise in the mid-1990s. The four major private airlines are East West Airlines, Jagsons Airlines, Continental Aviation, and Damania Airways.

In addition to the Indian-owned airlines, many foreign airlines provide international service. In 1995 forty-two airlines operated air services to, from, and through India.

In the mid-1990s, India had 288 usable airports. Of these, 208 had permanent-surface runways and two had runways of more than 3,659 meters, fifty-nine had runways of between 2,400 and 3,659 meters, and ninety-two had runways between 1,200 and 2,439 meters. There are major international airports at Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), under the management of the International Airport Authority of India. International service also operates from Marmagao, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. A consortium of Indian and British companies signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government of Maharashtra in June 1995 to build a new international airport for Bombay, across the harbor from the main city and to be linked by a cross-harbor roadway. Major regional airports are located at Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Pune, Srinagar, Chandigarh, Kochi, and Nagpur.

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