The transportation infrastructure includes roads, vehicles, railways, tracks, trains, ports, airports, ships and vessels. Road transportation is perhaps the most important because the railway tracks cannot be laid everywhere. The roads are the means by which the movement of people and goods from one place to another is ensured. Millions of people move out of their houses everyday to reach their places of work, trade or business daily. They not only generate income from working but also fulfil the needs of others. They use roads and vehicles available to them.
The national highways are mainly used to move from one city to another and for supply of essential goods-foodgrains and other articles of use from one city to another. Thus, roads are a key to the success of Public Distribution System. If there is no road transportation, the supply of these goods will not be possible to different cities and towns. The whole economy will collapse.
Railways are another important part of transportation infrastructure. India has a huge railway network with a route length of 63,221 km, a fleet of over 7,800 locomotives, 5,340 passenger service vehicles and nearly 5,000 other coaching vehicles. There are 7,031 stations across the length and breadth of the country. The total network is divided into 16 zones. Crores of passengers travel through railways for the job, work and personal needs every day. Thousands of tonnes of goods are taken from one place to another. The transportation of heavy goods like steel and raw material like coal cannot be transported by any other mode of transport than the railways. Apart from performing these vital functions for the economy and the country, the railways are a huge source of revenue for the government. It has also given employment to lakhs of employees directly or indirectly.
Airports and civil aviation are also part of the transportation network in the country. Air travel is fast and highly comfortable. It caters to the needs of rich sections of people and the high executives and political delegates whose time is highly precious. It is also used for speedy transportation of goods, particularly the perishable goods which, if sent through road or railway transport will rot in the way.
In India the civil aviation has three main functional divisions-regulatory, infrastructure and operational. On the operational side India Airlines, Alliance Air, private scheduled airlines and non-scheduled operators provide domestic air services while Air India provides international air services. Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited provides helicopter services to 11 and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in its offshore operations to inaccessible areas and difficult terrains. Sahara Airlines and Jet Airways have also been permitted to operate on international sector. In order to help the Indian exporters and make their exports more competitive, the government introduced an ‘open sky policy’ for cargo.
Under this policy, foreign airlines or associations of exporters can bring any freighters to the country for the upliftment of cargo. Charter flights for tourists are also allowed to and from India. Thus, air services infrastructure plays a key role in civil aviation, international flights and cargo transportation. It benefits the economy immensely and earns millions of rupees every year for the country.
India has a coastline of over 7500 km which is serviced by 12 major ports and 186 other ports. The major ports are under the purview of the central government while the minor ports come under the jurisdiction of the respective state governments. The major ports are: Mumbai, Nhava Sheva, Kandla, Marmugao, Mangalore, Cochin, on the west coast; Kolkata, Haldia, Paradip, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Ennore, and Tuticorin on the east coast.
These ports have a capacity of over 450 million tonnes. The number of cargo vessels handled at these ports is about 16,500 per annum. The cargo handled is liquid cargo, dry cargo and container cargo. In order to improve the efficiency, productivity and quality of services and to bring competitiveness in port services, the government has encouraged private participation in it in the wake of liberalisation and globalisation of the economy. The Eleventh Plan outlay for port sector is around Rs. 6,500 crore.
If one sector has developed more than any other sector during the last one decade or so, it is the communication sector. It encompasses the postal network, mail system, telecommunications, including telephones, mobile phone services, etc. The postal service is catering to the mailing, telegraphic services which have now been supplemented by courier services. India has a huge infrastructure for postal and telecommunication services whereby letters, parcels and messages are sent to various parts of the country and abroad. Mobile phone services are the buzzword of our society now. Several companies like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communication, Hutch and Vodafone are flourishing apart from the public sector MTNL.
Infrastructure is the base on which all economic activities of the country depend. The government is spending thousands of crores of rupees every year to create this infrastructure where it does not exist or is not fully functional. It has also established adequate systems for their maintenance and upkeep so that it remains efficient and durable.