Surface transport, particularly road transport, plays a pivotal role in linking all other modes of transportation. A useful transport infrastructure is part of the enabling environment for rapid, efficient and sustainable economic growth.
India has an extensive and diversified transport system, comprising 3.31 million km of roads, 63,465 km of rail, 12 major and 187 minor ports, 11 major international airports, 89 domestic airports and 14,500 km of navigable inland waterways. But infrastructure spending has fallen way short of India’s economic growth. Substantially more money has to be made available in an integrated fashion to address these transportation problems promptly. The transport sector alone will require an investment of $500 billion (3.6 per cent of GDP) over the next 10 years. This investment is part of an overall push to stimulate infrastructure investments to 8.0 per cent of GDP during 2017 to 2022.
Economic Growth will Demand Quality Infrastructure
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has predicted that the GDP of the top countries in 2030 would be: China $35 trillion, the USA $33 trillion, India $10 trillion, while Japan, Germany, UK, and Korea will clock anywhere between $3 trillion and $5 trillion.
Economic growth and rising incomes over the last two decades have resulted in rapidly growing vehicle ownership, which is a critical factor for rapid traffic growth. Passenger traffic is forecasted to grow annually at 12–15 per cent for the next five years and freight traffic by 15–18 per cent. This growth will create an increased demand for more and better roads. India transports nearly 57 per cent of the total goods by roadway, compared to 22 per cent in China and 37 per cent in the U.S. In contrast, the share of rail is only 35 per cent compared to 48 per cent in the U.S. and 47 per cent in China. The share of shipping through rivers is 6 per cent compared to 14 per cent in the U.S and 30 per cent in China. This is despite the fact that a large part of India’s freight traffic comprises bulk materials and moves over long distances that can be served efficiently by rail and waterways.
Faster Growth of Railways
In 2014, The National Transport Development Policy Committee projected the freight movement by road vs. rail transportation would be 50:50 in 2031-32 compared to the 65:35 in 2017. These calculations assume that the growth rate is 1.2 times the growth rate of GDP. There is also an assumption of 15 per cent increase in railway transportation within the next 15 years to encourage green transportation.
The Economic Survey 2018 indicates that India is far ahead of many emerging economies in providing qualitative transportation infrastructure. Around $4.5 trillion worth of investments is required by India till 2040 to develop infrastructure. From the current trend, India can meet $3.9 trillion with investment gap of $526 billion. The collapse of PPP in power and telecom projects are reasons behind under-investment in infrastructure until recent past. However, private investment on the road infrastructure front has not declined much.
The total investment for the Bharatmala scheme to strengthen the roads network is Rs 10 trillion. The Union Budget indicates that the government will raise Rs.5.35 trillion as equity for the project.
Challenges in the sector
A few significant initiatives required to address the problems in this sector include:
One, integrated transport approach guided by a modal mix based on life-cycle energy costs of different transport modes. Two, increase in investments focusing on increase in capacity and efficiency of infrastructure emphasising capacity expansion of the railways over the next 20 years. A vision similar to NHDP needs to be laid down for the Railways for a transformed railway network by 2030. Three, transport pricing policies in several sectors require constant review and modification considering the sharp increase in fuel prices and operating costs. Four, credible institutional framework to address transportation safety issues at the Centre, states and city levels. Five, transport access, through development of rural roads and expansion of rail infrastructure in large unserved areas need emphasis.
Tamil Nadu – strong infrastructure
Tamil Nadu has one of India’s most diversified and modern industrial bases, supplemented by substantial FDI and the availability of entrepreneurial human capital. Tamil Nadu is ranked third in the country in medium-term investments.
Out of 253,510 km of total road network in the state, 62,491 km is maintained by the Highways Department in the category of
National Highways, State Highways, Major District Roads and Other District Roads.
With over 65 per cent of freight traffic and 85 per cent of passenger traffic taking place through road transport, Tamil Nadu has taken significant initiatives to improve the road infrastructure in the past and is maintaining the thrust. The investment trend indicates the emphasis given to improving the road infrastructure. With such consistent performance, the state has widened 94 per cent of state highways to two-lane standards (national average is 33 per cent). National Highways in the State boasts multi-lane length (45 per cent) much higher than that in the country (25 per cent). In all, 98 per cent of NHs are double laned.
In 2012, the state government unveiled Vision Tamil Nadu 2023, a strategic action plan for the development of infrastructure in the state. It aims at the increase in infrastructure spending from 5 per cent to 11.5 per cent by 2023. It emphasizes investing in physical and social infrastructure projects estimated to the tune of $ 224 billion in 10 years.
Road safety has now become a critical issue. Road accidents kill 1.25 million people every year across the world, of which 90 per cent deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. In India, more than 150,000 people lost their lives in 2016 due to road accidents. Tamil Nadu loses nearly Rs. 61 crore every day due to road fatalities alone. If grievous injuries are added, the loss is around Rs.131 crore per day (3.5 per cent of state’s GDP).
Chennai city transport is extensively supported by the suburban network connecting northern, western and southern parts and also by a Rapid Transit System (RTS) on north-south corridor along Buckingham Canal alignment. The government of Tamil Nadu has taken up Chennai Metro (45 km in two corridors at the cost of around Rs.20,000 crore) with Japanese Bank for International Cooperation loan to complement other modes of transport and to shoulder the increasing traffic burden on roads. Tamil Nadu has initiated a proposal for an Intelligent Transport System (ITS)-based traffic and transport management system for Chennai at a cost of Rs.900 crore with loan assistance.