Infuriating Infrastructure of India
India is on its way to becoming a global giant. Its economy is booming with about 8% annual growth which is only superseded by China. Multinational companies are investing billions of dollars, creating jobs and a swelling middle class hungry for increasing comfort. This influx has not stopped the growth of home grown companies, which have likewise flourished in the market. This concoction of stimulus is driving the country forward but the transition is not completely smooth. This development process could be even faster but is hindered by an inexplicable lack of investment in infrastructure. I feel that there are two primary areas which need to be addressed that are decelerating the progress.
India is currently producing 202.98 Giga watts of power. Although this seems a lot, still 300 million people have no access to electricity. Those who do have access face regular power cuts - at least one hour per day even in big cities like Chennai and in rural areas the loss can be up to 5 hours a day. This is a big nuisance for the people in their homes but is also a deterrent for companies looking to invest in India. Restriction on their power consumption or unavailability of power means that their operations will be adversely affected. If this situation continues, many factories and offices will have to think twice before relocating to India. If we examine the cause for this deficit in demand and supply, there we run into two primary reasons.
There are an insufficient number of power plants to meet the requirement. The growth of factories and offices together with the exploding population means that there has been a surge in demand. There is not enough power is being generated to keep up the increasing population and demand.
In 2010 India’s network losses exceeded 32% which is huge compared to the world average of 15%. This is compounding the problem of insufficient production. This giant loss is caused in part by technical shortcomings of transmissions and also in part by illegal wiretapping.
These two reasons result in a shortfall of approximately 10% during peak load. This may not seem huge but to show the true shortfall we have to look at the per capita consumption which is 96kWh and 288kWh respectively in rural and urban locations. This is in comparison with the worldwide average of 2600kWh or the EU average of 6200kWh (data from 2009). If India is going to bring the per capita consumption to these levels, then serious investment and planning need to take place.
There are large energy concerns and to solve them the government has commissioned a new generation of nuclear power stations to combat this shortfall. Once they become operational the shortfalls should lessen significantly. There are also plans being made to introduce renewable generation widespread, especially solar cells in perpetually sunny regions!
Road Network & Traffic Management
India has the third largest road network in the world only behind the USA and China with a mindboggling 3,383,344 km. The problem is usually not the planning of roads but rather their construction and maintenance, or the lack of maintenance which has far reaching effects. The current state is tarmac roads for national highways and main arteries but many suburbs have only dirt roads. Rural areas can be very difficult to reach as the access is more akin to a path than a road. There are still many thousands of roads which have still not been laid and even when they are laid, they are to a poor standard. This means that roads rapidly go back into disrepair. Lack of proper roads is one of the causes for the 105,000 deaths (data from 2003) every year in road accidents in India. Lack of road rule enforcement is also a cause for this mammoth death toll every year. Although there are strict rules in place, many seem not to be following them as there is a distinct lack of effective enforcement.
The rapid economic growth has created a swelling middleclass who are moving from motorbikes to cars. Many people who used bicycles or public transport are able to afford motorbikes. This consequently is overloading the roads. The infrastructure is just not designed to handle this many vehicles and so traffic is a huge problem is large cities. There is also faster deterioration of the roads due to this increased traffic.
The lack of proper roads leads to damage of vehicles, including greater wear and tear of vehicles. Poor condition of roads consequently increases the maintenance costs and shortening effective lifetime of the roads & vehicles. This inevitably pushes up the price of transport.
There are concerted efforts being made into expand and improve the road network. This effort is constantly being pegged back due to improper use and installation of other infrastructure elements such as drainage pipelines and power cables. The law is constantly being changed in an effort to increase the safety of the road users. Only five years ago it became compulsory for motorbike users to wear helmets in the state of Tamil Nadu. Despite this, one can see huge swathes of people not adhering to this important law due to lack of proper enforcement. In an effort to ease rush hour traffic, there are numerous flyover projects which should remove the blockages in the arteries of the cities. Public transport is also being continuously expanded and modernised which should encourage people to use them rather than their own vehicles.
India faces many problems on its growth to potentially become a global superpower. I have explored briefly two major concerns, and touched upon what is being done to tackle them. Overall the direction of movement is in the correct path, despite these large challenges the future is still bright for the country!