India boasts the second-largest road network globally, spanning approximately 5.89 million kilometers. This extensive network plays a crucial role in transporting around 64.5% of the country’s goods, while 90% of India’s total passenger traffic relies on roads for commuting. Over the years, road transportation has seen steady growth, contributing to improved connectivity between cities, towns, and villages.
The significance of investing in road infrastructure for India’s economic development is as follows:
- Multiplier effect on the economy: Investment in road infrastructure has a cascading effect on the economy, stimulating other sectors such as steel, cement, automobiles, and real estate. This, in turn, generates indirect employment opportunities.
- Last mile connectivity: Road transportation is not only cost-effective but also the most convenient mode of travel for both freight and passengers in India. With its widespread reach and door-to-door delivery, it ensures efficient last mile connectivity.
- Socio-economic benefits: Recognized as a vital means of socio-economic integration, road infrastructure plays a key role in enhancing India’s productivity and competitiveness, particularly in sectors like agriculture and manufacturing.
- Improvement in bilateral and multilateral relations: Enhanced border road infrastructure facilitates smoother mobility and fosters increased trade with neighboring countries.
To improve India’s road infrastructure, the government has undertaken several major initiatives, including:
- PM Gati Shakti-National Master Plan: This plan aims to integrate infrastructure schemes from various ministries and state governments, ensuring coordinated implementation and integrated planning. The Bharatmala Pariyojana is one such initiative focusing on optimizing existing infrastructure, promoting multi-modal integration, bridging infrastructure gaps, and integrating national and economic corridors.
- National infrastructure pipeline: The government has allocated Rs. 111 lakh crore (US$ 1.4 trillion) under the National Infrastructure Pipeline for FY 2019-25, with the roads sector accounting for 18% of capital expenditure during this period.
- National Highway Development Projects: Key projects include the Golden Quadrilateral, North-South and East-West Corridors, and enhancing road connectivity between major ports and national highways. Additionally, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has introduced the Network Survey Vehicle (NSV) to improve the quality of national highways.
- Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): The road sector allows 100% FDI, enabling private funding and participation.
- NHAI InvIT: As part of the National Monetisation Pipeline, the NHAI has launched its Infrastructure Investment Trust (InvIT) to monetize national highway projects, creating a revenue source for road infrastructure investment.
Despite these initiatives, the sector faces challenges such as limited private sector involvement, funding constraints, and delays in land acquisition. Addressing these constraints requires a greater budgetary commitment to strengthen road infrastructure, expedite land acquisition processes, and attract private investment opportunities.