M J Akbar reminds us in his famous book Nehru: The making of India that Pandit Nehru held close to heart Pulitzer winning author Robert Frost’s quote “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep”. Despite the significant progress unleashed in a short span since Independence, the quote rings true even today.
Numerous studies by academicians and technocrats have shown time and again that India’s focus should be on education, a skilled workforce, infrastructure and resource planning to achieve above average growth numbers. The Golden Quadrilateral envisioned by the erstwhile planning commission is rightly being extended in all directions. The planning commission, in order to create a uniform market, also brought into effect the Goods & Services Tax.
Translating common economic and developmental performance into statistical numbers, there are a few distinct figures that help us visualise the Indian growth story. When one envisions Indian logistics or highways, we, with the help of Bollywood imagery, visualise slow-moving, dusty, overloaded trucks, lines of lorries queued up at toll booths, and truck drivers relaxing at dhabas en route their over six-day journey to cover 1400 km—effectively achieving a speed of less than 30 km/hr on road.
As stated in an 2013 Ernst and Young report and several other studies, the average truck speed in India, considering only driving time, is about 30 km/hr vis-a-vis 80
km/hr in developed countries, and in India trucks cover about 300 km per day compared to 800 km in developed nations. Considering there are very few busy logistical routes in India, only 24 per cent of them are four-lane roads.
Using the data from a report by IIM Prof. G Raghuram, it can be statistically taken a step further. Assuming that highway infrastructure is developed, if the speed of the trucks can be increased from the present 30-40 km/hr to 70 km/hr, the GDP growth in 2025 can be 10.04 per cent whereas at the present 40 km/hr, the rate would be around 7.5 per cent. In 2020, at a pace of 40 km/hr, India’s growth rate would stand at 6.7 per cent, and at 70 km/hr, it would be 8.75 per cent. In the long run, in 2032, a trucking speed of 40 km/hr would help Indian GDP achieve a growth rate of 8.28 per cent. Likewise, a speed of 70 km/hr would help us achieve 11.85 per cent growth while at 80 km/hr, it would be 12.96 per cent.
Taking into consideration the assumptions and calculations for the year 2020, the difference of GDP percentage between 40km/hr and 70km/hr stands at around two percentage points. For an economy and nation as large and as diverse as India, a 2 per cent difference in growth rate can significantly impact not less than a few hundred million citizens.
India’s development cannot be pinned to just one fact. However, improvements in logistics and highway infrastructure will go a long way in nurturing it. That said, job creation, manufacturing, education, and health among many other factors will also play an equally significant role.
A Transport Corporation of India (TCI) and IIM-Kolkata report further concludes that between Rs 80,000–1,00,000 crore are withdrawn as waste from India’s GNI due to traffic jams and toll delays alone, amounting to around 1.2 per cent of India’s GDP. While speaking of highway infrastructure, the intra-city traffic woes, a hot topic at every coffee table, hint at another stark and ignored reality. A study by ISTIEE (European Transport Institute) has found that for over a decade, Indian tier-1 cities have seen high single digit growth rates in vehicular ownership and double digit increase in tier-2 cities. Based on a NASSCOM and ICT report, a former WSJ analyst tries to explain that nearly 188 million man-hours are wasted in traffic congestion totalling an economic impact of about Rs 3,96,000 crores in Bengaluru alone, annually.
That number by itself may not be easily quantified or justified, but the issue nonetheless is undisputed. This demonstrates that progress in urban rejuvenation is in need of a vision that encompasses metros and tier-2 cities.
If we can make headway in logistical improvements and place priority on highway infrastructure, coupled with efforts to ease traffic in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai, India can race towards acche din at 80 km/hr rather than the current 30 km/hr, thereby making the government’s ambitious plans of Make in India and Startup India gain steam organically while relieving the stress on the government. Improved infrastructure explicitly accelerates economic growth and also has a great implicit bearing on the environment, health and the standard of living of the common man, overlooked in many studies.
While the newly formed Niti Aayog is developing India’s 25-year road map, it is interesting to note that along with Start-up India, Make in India and Digital India, these numbers provide a raw yet interesting insight into the most basic and literal roadblocks, lags or impediments in India’s much-anticipated goal to become a strong global force.
The growth of India cannot arise from just the one-handed clap of the GST bill but should be furthered with a push in infrastructure development. It will make the sound much clearer and louder as visible in the numbers above. Taking a cue from the poem that touched the founding PM’s heart, India still has many a miles to go. But let us cover them at a faster speed, while taking along the goods, handlers and the dhaba men and women.
(With assistance from Dr S B Madagi, Chair, Bioinformatics, Karnataka State Women’s University)
Basanagouda M Patil
Co-Founder at IT4ALL Bangalore