An overview of India’s Physical Infrastructure


Infrastructure comprises such activities as (i) transport, (ii) communications, (iii) energy, (iv) intermediate goods output, (v) increasing productivity of natural resources, such as irrigation, drainage, afforestation, etc., (vi) science and technology, (vii) information system, (viii) finance and banking, (ix) piped water supply, sanitation and sewerage, solid waste collection and disposal, and piped gas, and (x) human resource development. (The first three comprise what is known as ‘hard core’ of infrastructure.) Infrastructure works on a number of determinants of economic development.

a) On the demand side, it opens up possibilities of investment by making available a number of inputs and services, opening up the size of market as well as increasing the supply of elasticity and efficiency of factors of production.

b) On the supply side, the development of infrastructure particularly that of financial institutions helps in mobilizing potential saving and channelizing them into productive investment.

In short, infrastructure creates the conditions on which the superstructure of economic activities is built up.

In this article, we will have a brief overview of India’s physical infrastructure.


Performance of physical infrastructure in Indian economy in last one and half decades has been mixed and uneven. Table 1 provides the latest achievement of India’s physical infrastructure sector. Over years, India’s soft infrastructure grew much faster than the hard infrastructure. For example, India’s rising trade has been reflected in growing container port traffic, which increased from less than a million in 1991 to about 5 million in 2005 with an annual growth rate of about 266 percent since 1991. In contrast, hardware components, like railways, roadways and airways, witnessed little expansion in last one and half decades. In general, performances of these sectors (hardware) are nevertheless poor, when counted their densities in terms of country’s surface area or population. Densities in terms of access or spread of rail and road length clearly indicate that road sector has been successful, compared to railways, in spreading the network as well as providing an access in the economy.

The most distinct part of India’s physical infrastructure development in recent years is the development of road network across the country; per sq. km. of surface area in India is now endowed with one km of roadways. India has one of the largest road networks in the world, aggregating to 3.34 million km. The country’s road network consists of Expressways, National Highways, State Highways, Major District Roads, Other District Roads and Village Roads. The road network, as on December 2007, comprises 66,590 km of National Highways, 128,000 km of State Highways, 470,000 km of Major District Roads and about 2.65 million km of other District and Rural Roads.

National Highways comprise only about 2 percent of the total length of roads and carry about 40 percent of the total traffic across the length and breadth of the country. Out of the total length of National Highways, 32 percent is single lane/intermediate lane, 56 percent is 2-lane standard and the balance of 12 percent is 4-lane standard or more.

Ports have been playing a crucial role in facilitating India’s international trade and also in generating economic activity in their surroundings and hinterland. India’s coastline of 7,517 km. is added with 12 major ports and 187 non-major ports. Of the non-major ports, around 60 are handling traffic. The total traffic carried by both the major and minor ports during 2005–06 was estimated at around 570 million tons. The 12 major ports carry about 3/4th of the total traffic, whereas Vishakhapatnam (on the eastern coast) is the largest port in India.

Airports Authority of India (AAI) has decided to develop and modernize 35 non-metro airports in the country, namely, Agati, Agartala, Agra, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Aurangabad, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Coimbatore, Dehradun, Dimapur, Goa, Guwahati, Imphal, Indore, Jaipur, Jammu Khajurao, Lucknow, Madurai, Mangalore, Nagpur, Patna, Port Blair, Pune, Raipur, Rajkot, Ranchi, Trichy, Thiruvananthapuram, Udaipur, Vadodara, Varanasi, and Vishakapatnam. The Committee on Infrastructure has approved the report of the task force for the development of 35 non-metro airports. Development of airports in India’s North Eastern Region (NER) will be taken up by AAI on a priority basis.

Indian Railways, world’s second largest rail network under a single management, has been contributing to the development of the country’s industrial and economic landscape for over 150 years. Of the two main segments of the Indian Railways, freight and passenger, the freight segment accounts for roughly two-thirds of revenues. Within the freight segment, bulk traffic accounts for nearly 95 percent, of which more than 44 percent is coal. Improved resource management, inter alia, through increased wagon load, faster turnaround time and a more rational pricing policy has led to an improvement in the performance of the railways during the last two years.

Transport Infrastructure in India, there is a close relationship between economic growth and infrastructure, of which transport infrastructure is a significant component (Planning Commission (NTDPC), 2014). Better transportation infrastructure improves cost effectiveness of user industries by reducing transactions costs, increases connectivity, improves economic opportunities for the poor, reduces inequality, and contributes to competitiveness in general.

Thus India’s physical infrastructure has improved and constantly is being improved day by day.



Master’s in Business Administration with majors in finance from the Columbia Business School.

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Sanjit Bakshi

Master’s in Business Administration with majors in finance from the Columbia Business School.