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An efficient transport system is a pre- requisite for sustained economic development. It is not only the key infrastructural input for the growth process but also plays a significant role in promoting national integration, which is particularly important in a large country like India. The transport system also plays an important role of promoting the development of the backward regions and integrating them with the mainstream economy by opening them to trade and investment. In a liberalized set- up, an efficient transport network becomes all the more important in order to increase productivity and enhancing the competitive efficiency of the economy in the world market.

Of the various modes of transport that connect the cities and villages of the country, road transport constitutes the crucial link. Road infrastructure facilitates movement of men and material, helps trade and commerce, links industry and agriculture to markets and opens up backward regions of India. In addition, the road system also provides last-mile connection for other modes of transport such as railways, airports, ports and inland waterway transport and complements the efforts of these modes in meeting the needs of transportation.

The road transport sector in India has expanded manifold in fifty years after independence, both in terms of spread and capacity. The growth in the importance of road transport within the transport sector is borne out by its growing share in GDP. The share of road transport in GDP is presently 3.69% which accounts for a major share of all transport modes which contribute 5.5% to GDP and handles more than 60 percent of the freight and more than 80 percent of the passenger traffic in India.


Total Length - National Highways* (km)

Widening to Two Lanes

Widening to Four Lanes

Strengthening of Pavement

Major Bridges

1947- 69


14,000 **




1969- 90






1990- 97






1997- 02






2002- 03






2003- 04






2004- 05






* Length at the end of the period
**Includes a length of 6,000 km which were already two lane at the time of declaration as national highways.

The road network though extensive remains inadequate in terms of spread, suffers from a number of deficiencies and is unable to handle high traffic density at many places and has poor riding quality in some segments. The main reason for these shortcomings is the inadequacy of funds. Efforts are now underway to address these issues and improvement in the road network has been accorded a very high priority. This expansion of capacity will have to be accompanied by technological upgradation in many critical areas. The need for new technology acquires greater urgency because the sector had been suffering from slow technological development for a long time.

• The Indian road network is seemingly very large. However, only 47% of the roads are paved.
• The high- density corridors of road linking metro cities and ports are crowded and are carrying traffic more than capacity.
• About 14000 kms of National Highway require four laning, while 10000 kms require widening from single lane to two- lane to facilitate normal flow of existing road traffic.
• The average productivity of a truck is 200 kms a day as against 350- 400 kms that would be possible through reduction of congestion.

The demand for transport is affected by structural changes taking place in the economy. This growth in transport demand has to be met by expanding domestic supply as transport infrastructure is non- tradable. Investment in transport must reflect the need to make up for existing capacity shortages and also to allow for growth in demand.

Road Network

The total road length in India has increased significantly from 0.399 million kms as of March 31, 1951 to 3.38 million kms as of March 31, 2004 making Indian road network one of the largest road networks in the world. The surfaced road lengths have also increased from 0.157 million kms to around 1.604 million kms in the same period. Surface length constitutes 47.3% of total road length as of March 31, 2004, up from a level of 39.3% of the total road length as of March 31, 1951.

The entire network is classified into five distinct categories perhaps from the viewpoint of management and administration. The five categories are:
- National Highways (NH)
- State Highways (SH)
- Major District Roads (MDR)
- Other District Roads (ODR)
- Village Roads (VR)

Among the different categories of roads, National Highways constitute around 2%, State Highways 4% while 94 per cent of the entire network comprises ODR, MDR and VR. Out of these, PWD Roads are 21%, Urban Roads 7% and the rest of the road length in India is accounted for by the rural roads. While development and maintenance of National Highways is under the purview of the Centre, all other categories of roads come under the purview of the respective States/ UT Governments.

The National Highways (NHs) have a length of 65,569 km and run across the length and breadth of India facilitating medium and long distance inter- city passenger & freight traffic. Though they comprise only about 2 per cent of the road network, they carry about 40 per cent of the road based traffic.

State Highways (SHs) and Major District Roads (MDRs) constitute the secondary system of road infrastructure of India. The State Highways provide linkages with the National Highways, district headquarters, important towns, tourist centres and minor ports and carry the traffic along major centres within the State. Their total length is about 137,711 km. Major District Roads run within the district, connecting areas of production with markets, rural areas to the district headquarters and to State Highways/ National Highways.

By acting as the link between the rural and urban areas, the State Highways and Major District Roads contribute significantly to the development of the rural economy and industrial growth of India. It is assessed that the secondary system caries about 40 per cent of the total road traffic and comprises about 20% of the total road length.

The last link in the chain is rural roads. The access to villages within a district or between different districts is provided by Other District Roads (ODRs) and Village Roads (VRs). These roads also meet the social needs of the villagers and are also a means for transportation of agriculture produce from the villages to nearby markets. Rural connectivity is a key component of rural development and contributes significantly to generating higher agricultural incomes and productive employment opportunities besides promoting access to economic and social services. Studies show that rural roads have a significant impact on poverty reduction as well.

Motor Vehicle Population

There has been a staggering 100 fold increase in the population of motorized vehicles, however, the expansion in the road network has not been commensurate with this increase. While the motor vehicle population has grown from 0.3 million in 1951 to over 30 million in 2004, the road network has expanded from 0.4 million km to 3.32 million km, only a 8 fold increase in terms of length during the same period. However, upgrading of roads by way of widening of carriage- ways, improved surface quality, strengthening/ reconstruction of old/ weak bridges and culverts, etc. has been carried out.

Year Number of Goods Vehicle (in thousands) Number of Passenger Buses (in thousands)

1950- 1951



1997- 1998



1998- 1999


540 *

1999- 2000


562 *

2000- 2001


634 *

2001- 2002


669 *

2002- 2003


728 *

* includes Omnibus

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