Column: Scratching the surface

Feb 20 2014, 03:04 IST
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SummaryIt is curious that Haryana and Gujarat, both highly industrialised, have poor surface transport statistics

Railways and roadways are the two most important arms of infrastructure of any state. Greater connectivity and the consequently greater mobility of goods and services enable prosperity.

India’s railway density is about 20 km of railway tracks per thousand square km of area. West Bengal and Punjab are the top two states in terms of railway density with a density of 44 km and 42 km, respectively. Railway density is nearly twice the national average in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh—the next two states in the pecking order. It is the lowest in Jammu & Kashmir, in the hilly states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and in the largely forested Chhattisgarh. Kerala tops all major states in terms of density of roads. At 5,178 km, its road length per thousand square km of area is well over four times the national average of 1,174 km. West Bengal and Assam are the other two states with a high density of road network. States with low road density are Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

While railways is energy-efficient and better suited for long-distance transportation, roads are arguably better suited for relatively shorter distances. The two are also substitutes. It, therefore, makes sense to consider the two together. And to ensure comparability, we normalise this by the geographical area of the state. So, in terms of railway and road length per thousand square km of area, the top three states are Kerala, West Bengal and Assam, in that order. Interestingly, none of these are successful industrial states. Kerala tops because of its small size. Assam has a high density of transport infrastructure as it provides the crucial link to the rest of India for all other north-eastern states. But the infrastructure is largely unsurfaced and, therefore, of poor quality, and it is also rendered so useless by the frequent breakdown of law and order that the remaining states are building new roads to avoid entering Assam on their way to the rest of the country.

In the ranking of 20 larger states on the basis of rail and road length per unit area, Tamil Nadu ranks seventh, Maharashtra ranks tenth and Gujarat is almost at the bottom of the stack at fifteenth.

This is rather counter-intuitive. Possibly, Tamil Nadu ranks better because it is largely evenly urban while eastern Maharashtra is mostly forested and western Gujarat is essentially barren. It makes sense to, therefore, compare

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