Transport : Railways, Highways, Airways and Water ways and their role in regional development, etc.

Infrastructure Development- Dams, Roads, Rails (Including Airways and Ports)

  • The availability of efficient infrastructure services is an important determinant of the pace of market development and output growth.
  • Historically, the infrastructure sector has been one of the key drivers of growth of the Indian economy and has shown positive growth in the current reporting year as well.
  • Development of the infrastructure sector has been a priority area for the government and has witnessed enhanced public investment.
  • Many reforms have been initiated in the infrastructure sector, resulting in robust growth in most of the sectors.
  • Major infrastructure sectors, namely power, road, railways, civil aviation, ports and telecommunication, have performed better during the year.
  • The sector is highly responsible for propelling India’s overall development and enjoys intense focus from Government for initiating policies that would ensure time-bound creation of world class infrastructure in the country.
  • Infrastructure sector includes power, bridges, dams, roads and urban infrastructure development.
  • In 2016, India jumped 19 places in World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index (LPI) 2016, to rank 35th amongst 160 countries

Road Sector

  • Road transport is considered to be one of the most cost effective and preferred modes of transport, both for freight and passengers, keeping in view its level of penetration and last mile connectivity in populated areas.
  • A good road network is vital to the economic development and social integration of the country.
  • It provides connectivity to remote areas, accessibility to markets, schools, and hospitals; and opens up backward regions to trade and investment.
  • Roads also play an important role in inter-modal transport development, establishing links with airports, railway stations, and ports.
  • The capacity of National Highways in terms of handling traffic (passenger and goods) needs to be in pace with the industrial growth. India has one of the largest road networks of over 54.72 lakh km.
  • It comprises National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, Major District Roads, Other District Roads and Village Roads with following length distribution:
  • National Highways / Expressway 1,03,933 km
  • State Highways 1,61,487 km
  • Other Roads 52,07,044km
  • Total 54,72,464 km


National Highway Authority of India

  • National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been set up by an Act of the Parliament viz. The National Highways Authority of India Act, 1988.
  • It has been entrusted with the National Highways Development Project, along with other projects (Special Accelerated Road Development Plan –North East & Special Projects in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal). This brings under its purview 48590 kms of National Highways as on 31.03.2016.

Vision of NHAI

To meet the Nation’s need for the provision and maintenance of National Highways network to global standards and to meet the user’s expectations in the most time bound and cost effective manner, within the strategic policy framework set by the Government of India and thus promote economic well-being and quality of life of the people.

Mission of NHAI

  • To develop, maintain and manage National Highways vested in it by the Central Government.
  • To regulate and control the plying of vehicles on National Highways for its proper management.
  • To develop and provide consultancy and construction services in India and abroad, and carry out research activities in relation to the development, maintenance and management of highways or any other facilities there at.
  • To advise the Central Government on matters relating to highways.
  • To assist on such terms and conditions as may be mutually agreed upon, any State Government in the formulation and implementation of schemes for highway development.


Rail Sector

Interesting facts about India Railways

  • Indian Railways started its service 161 years ago on 16 April 1853 when the first passenger train was run over a stretch of 33 kilometres from Mumbai to Thane. The train with 14 railway carriages, carrying around 400 guests, left Bori Bunder at 3:30 p.m. that day. It was declared a public holiday then.
  • Nationalised in 1951, Indian Railways is today the largest rail network in Asia and the world’s second largest network operated under a single management. It has 115,000 km of track length. It runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily – equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia – connecting more than 7,172 stations.
  • Railways runs more than 7,421 freight trains carrying 3 million tonnes (MT) of freight every day. It has entered a select club of railways that includes China, Russia and USA in carrying more than one billion tons of freight annually. Indian Railways has over 239,281 freight wagons, 59,713 passenger coaches and 9,549 locomotives.
  • A separate budget for the Railways has its genesis in the recommendations of the 10-member Acworth Committee in 1920-21, headed by British railway economist William Acworth. Following his report, the railway finances of India were separated from the general government finances in 1924.
  • In the post-Independence era, railways accounted for 75% of public transport and 90% of freight. Hence, the need for a separate budget. Today, in contrast, the share has reduced to 15% and 30%.
  • The first live telecast of railway budget took place on 24 March 1994. Lalu Prasad Yadav, who remained Railway Minister from 2004 to May 2009 presented the railway budget six times in a row.
  • In 2000, Mamata Banerjee, who is the current Chief Minister of West Bengal, became the first woman Railway Minister. In 2002, she also became the first female railway minister to present the railway budget. Additionally, she holds the record of being the only woman who presented the railway budget for two different governments in the centre (NDA and UPA).
  • India’s fastest train has successfully completed a trial run at 160 km per hour. In a few months, with the rollout of the first semi-high speed train, passengers will be able to travel between Delhi and Agra in just 90 minutes, cutting the journey time by 30 minutes.
  • The New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi is currently the fastest train on the Indian Railways network. It reaches a maximum speed of 150 kmph on the Faridabad-Agra section. The Metupalayam-Ooty Nilgiri Passenger train, which runs at an average speed of 10 kmph, is the slowest train.
  • The New Delhi Railway Station has secured a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s largest Route Relay Interlocking System. This system is put to use where multiple tracks are interlocked. It helps divert train movements during periods of high traffic volumes.
  • With over 1.4 million employees on its rolls, Indian Railways is the world’s seventh largest employer after the US Department of Defence, the Chinese Army, Wal-Mart, China National Petroleum, State Grid of China and British Health Service, according to The Economist.
  • The renovated platform at Gorakhpur Railway Station in Uttar Pradesh has become the world’s longest, measuring 1,366 meter. Until recently, Kharagpur in West Bengal was the longest platform at 1,072 meter, followed by State Street Center subway station in Chicago at 1,067meter.
  • Indian Railways is building the world’s highest railway bridge-five times the height of Qutub Minar and 35 meters taller than Eiffel Tower. It will come up over the Chenab river on the under construction rail link to the Kashmir Valley. The bridge will rise 359 meters over the Chenab on the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link Project. Currently, the world’s tallest rail bridge runs over France’s Tarn river.
  • Indian Railways’ longest tunnel is Pir Panjal that links Kashmir Valley with Banihal in Jammu. It runs for a distance of over 11.2 km. The train with the longest route is Vivek Express. Running between Dibrugarh and Kanyakumari, it covers 4,286 km in around 82 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Toilets were introduced on Indian Railways in 1909, more than half a century after the start of operations. Indian Railways started computerized reservation in New Delhi in 1986.
  • Station with the shortest name is Ib in Odisha. Venkatanarasimharajuvariipeta is the station with the longest name (29 letters). This is sometimes spelled with ‘Sri’ prefixed.
  • Four sites of Indian Railways have been declared as “World Heritage sites” by the UNESCO. These are Darjeeling, Himalayan Railway inscribed in 1999, Mumbai CST Building inscribed in 2004, Neelgiri Mountain Railways inscribed in 2005 and Kalka-Shimla Railways inscribed in 2008.
  • The Fairy Queen, plying between New Delhi and Alwar in Rajasthan, is the oldest functioning steam engine in the world. It has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and has also received the Heritage Award from the International Tourist Bureau, Berlin.


  • There are a total of 454 airports in India, out of which around 90 are open for commercial services and 16 are designated as international airports.
  • Delhi and Mumbai are by far the busiest airports in India, carrying almost 2.5 times traffic as the next busiest airport.
  • Air traffic has increased rapidly in the last decade, although this has slowed down in the last few years.
  • During the period 2007-08 to 2012-13, Passenger traffic and Freight traffic grew at a cumulative annual growth rate of 6.4% and 5.0% respectively. Indians are still flying in much greater numbers.
  • However, a number of Indian airlines have faced challenging market conditions in the recent years, and the rate of growth is likely to be significantly less than initially projected, estimates suggest that passenger traffic is expected to grow to 320 million by 2022-23 (an annual cumulative growth rate of 8.44%).
  • It is anticipated by the civil aviation ministry that domestic cargo will grow by 8 times during the period 2009-10 to 2031-32 from its level of 2009-10 whereas international cargo will grow by 7.6 times.
  • The growth so achieved has put tremendous pressure on current airport infrastructure in the country.
  • The Indian Government has projected that an investment of around US$ 12 billion in the next five year plan will be needed to help cope with additional demand, and private sector participation is expected to play a key role.
  • 75% of the investment envisaged in the next five year plan is expected to be contributed by private sector.
  • The private sector has already invested heavily to upgrade the airport infrastructure in several cases, with private participation in recent years at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Greenfield airport projects are planned in emerging Tier II cities such as Goa, Pune, Navi Mumbai, and Kannur.
  • Further, 35 non-metro airports are proposed for development, which provide excellent avenues for private contracting and bringing in international technologies for construction.


  • India is blessed with a coastline of more than 7500 kms and countess opportunities for natural ports.
  • Ports in India are classified as Major and Non-Major Ports. There are currently 13 Major ports in India, out of which are under the jurisdiction of Central Government of India.
  • Additionally, there are more than 180 non-major ports governed by the state governments. However, only about 60 of these non-major ports are currently operational.
  • The eastern coast of India generally deals with Bulk Cargo, while the western coast deals majorly in containerized cargo transport.
  • Ports in India handle more than 90% of the country’s trade by weight. Overall Indian ports handled close to 1 Billion MT of cargo in 2012-13. Port traffic expected to grow at a CAGR of 12% to reach 2500 million tonnes by 2019-20, with non-major ports expected to lead the growth and ease capacity constraints of Major Ports.
  • 43 port modernization and expansion projects are currently under implementation with an estimated cost US$ 2 billion. These projects are expected to provide capacity addition of about 220 MT.
  • Current capacity of major ports in India is 745 MMT against the traffic of 545.79 MMT 2012-13, giving them a capacity utilization of 73%. India’s existing ports infrastructure is not sufficient to handle the increased loads, even where ports have already been modernised.
  • There are capacity constraints with containerization level at only 25% as compared to global average of 60-70%. Further, ports face huge congestion and average time for clearing import-export cargo is about 19 days.
  • This is due to bottlenecks at almost all levels of the chain, including cargo handling and offtake capacities of road/ Improving transport networks is just one of many challenges currently facing India’s ports, which have seen massive swells in the amount of goods transported.
  • In addition to improving road and rail connections, projects related to port development (construction of jetties, berths, container terminals, deepening of channels to improve draft, etc.), will provide major opportunities for construction firms


History and extent of dams in India

  • India’s first dam is the Kallanai built on the Cauvery river by King Karikalan of the Chola dynasty around 2,000 years ago. The dam, which is still functional and irrigates millions of acres, spans 329 m in length and 20 m in width.
  • However, it was only post-independence that India’s love for big dams became more intense with the commissioning of a slew of projects including the Hirakud (1957), Gandhisagar (1960), Bhakra-Nangal (1963) and Nagarjuna Sagar (1967). Since then, the country has been continuously working on reining in its rivers for want of power, irrigation and domestic and industrial water supply needs.
  • Almost half of the large dams in the country were built in the two decades of 1970-90. Maharashtra has the maximum number of large dams in the country (1845) followed by Madhya Pradesh (905) and Gujarat (666).
  • A multi-purpose dam project includes one or more dams, infrastructure for generation of hydropower, infrastructure for housing of workers and for offices, a distribution network of canals and pipe systems, and access roads.
  • All these have their individual and cumulative impacts on the river and the surrounding environment. Here also lies an opportunity to minimise the ‘collateral damage’ caused by dam projects by minimising the footprint of these adjuncts.

Dams as power generators

  • Hydropower is often billed as a renewable, economic and non-polluting source of energy and hence there is an increased emphasis on building dams especially in the hydrologically-rich but geologically-fragile Himalayan states.
  • An assessment study put the hydroelectric power potential of the country at about 84,000 MW with maximum schemes envisaged on Brahmaputra basin (226) followed by Indus basin (190) and Ganga basin (142).
  • Possibility of revenue generation through sale of power units to other states and private players remains the main draw for state governments to invite project developers.
  • However, reports suggest that poor financial conditions of discoms make it a poor proposition. Average generation per MW of hydro capacity in India in 2014-15 was over 20 per cent less than that in 1993-94.

Dams and canals for irrigation

  • Canal system of irrigation had been prevalent in India for centuries but it was the Ganga Canal that laid the foundation for large scale diversion of water to farms.
  • Though the work was undertaken under the leadership of British Colonel Proby Cautley, it was the traditional acumen of local villagers that made the vast network possible. The canal was commissioned in 1855 irrigating around 5,000 villages.
  • Today, the system irrigates nearly 9,000 km² of agricultural land in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • The start of the Green Revolution in the mid 1960s put the spotlight on canal irrigation as the new hybrid crop varieties bred on heavy dose of chemical fertilizers and pesticides demanded assured irrigation.
  • However, the increased investment and network expansion dealt little benefits.
  • The World Commission on Dams in its year 2000 report found that the contribution of large dams to increased food grains production in India was less than 10 percent.
  • Loss in seepage, huge demand-supply gap, diversions under political pressures and comparatively easier and local availability of groundwater through pervasive use of borewells are the reasons for decline in efficiency trend.
  • Between 1996-97 and 2002-03, the area under canal irrigation declined by 2.4 million ha (13.8 per cent), the area under tank irrigation fell by 1.4 million ha (42.4 per cent), and the area irrigated by all other sources declined by 1 million ha (28 per cent).
  • The only irrigation source that increased its share was groundwater wells, by 2.8 million ha (more than 9 per cent).
  • A study of 210 major and medium irrigation projects by SANDRP used the data supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture to show that after investing Rs 130,000 crore, these delivered 2.4 million ha less irrigation during 1990-1 to 2006-7. This means, the governments have to invest twice as fast in canal irrigation projects every year just to keep their command areas from shrinking
  • The study said that around Rs 1,00,000 crore was wasted in the name of improving irrigation. Feasibility studies were fudged in the case of most of the projects with huge investments, over-optimistic predictions were made and very little money was earmarked for basic maintenance such as desiltation. In some cases, political interests ensured that water was diverted to unviable areas at the cost of needier regions.

Dams and flood control

  • The efficiency of dams to withhold floods has always been put to question. Critics have also termed dams as harbinger of floods claiming that the essential scientific assessment for consistent release of water to avoid build up is rarely done.
  • Absence of a standard operating procedure for releasing water from the dam gates was evident in 2014 when 24 students picnicking in a river were swept away due to sudden release of water from Larji dam in Himachal Pradesh.
  • Similarly, area downstream of Hirakud dam in Odisha has witnessed 14 floods in recent past with nine caused by sudden release of water from the dam.
  • A major reason is that the dam has not changed its flood control strategy for 23 years while the rainfall pattern has undergone major changes in local areas.
  • Lack of a coordination mechanism between neighbouring states about water flow also leads to emergency situations like one in 2011 when sudden release of water flow from upstream dams in Chhattisgarh led to breaching of danger mark in Hirakud.
  • In Gujarat, sudden release of large quantities of water from Ukai dam led to the biggest flood of 34 years in Tapi river submerging over 80 per cent of Surat, killing 150 persons and stranding over 20 lakh. Similar examples have been reported from other states.


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