Road Transport


Road transport is an old means of transport. It plays a significant role in carrying goods and people in all parts of the country. Particularly, the rural economy depends upon the road transport. The importance of roads has increased with the advent of auto vehicles.

Following sections will explain why Indian Roads are important national means of transport –

  • The Relative Importance Of Roads Than Railways
  • Development Of Road Length In India
    • Surfaced And Unsurfaced Roads
    • Development Of Road Transport
  • Geographical Distribution Of Roads
  • Roads Classification
  • Recent Development Of Roads Under National Highway Development Project (NHDP)

The Relative Importance Of Roads Than Railways

  • (i) Railway transport limited to the railway heads while the roads provide door to door services.
  • (ii) Roads can negotiate higher gradient of slopes and can traverse the mountainous regions. Construction of railway lines is difficult and expensive in hilly regions.
  • (iii) Road transport is flexible, reliable and quick.
  • (iv) It is more suitable for carrying perishable goods like milk, fruit and vegetables.
  • (v) Its cost of construction and maintenance is far less than that of the railway.
  • (vi) For short distance journey, roads are more suitable.

They supplement the railways by linking the interior areas with railway heads. Roads are ideal for the promotion of tourism in the country.

Development Of Road Length In India

With the total length of 3.32 million kilometre, India has the largest road network in the world. However, it is far from adequate or efficient.

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Surfaced And Unsurfaced Roads

  • Surfaced roads are the metalled roads and are made up of cement, concrete or bitumen. These are all-weather roads. The total route length of surfaced roads in India till march 1997 was 13,94,067 km.
  • Unsurfaced roads are ‘Kucha’ roads made up of earth. They provide tracks for the bullock carts and link the rural areas with the urban centres. They play an important role in the development of rural economy. During rainy season these roads are of little use. The total length of these roads was 10,71,816 km. till march 1997.

Development Of Road Transport

There has been a considerable development in the road length after independence.

  • Route length of surfaced roads has increased from 1.57 lakh km. (1950-51) to 13.94 lakh km. in 1997.
  • The length of unsurfaced roads during the same period has increased from 2.42 lakh km. to over 10.71 lakh km.

Not only the route length of roads has increased but the number of commercial heavy vehicles, particularly the buses and trucks has also shown a tremendous increase since Independence.

  • Vast increase in the road traffic has posed serious problems in handling it smoothly.
  • The number of road accidents has also shown a steady increase.
  • With increased road traffic, pollution of air has been on the rise.

Geographical Distribution Of Roads

Road density refers to the average length of roads per 100 square km area.

The road density in India is still very low compared to the developed countries.

  • High concentration of road network is found in the Northern Plains because of level land, fertile soil and high density of population. In these parts, unsurfaced roads are more common than surfaced roads.
  • Peninsular plateau has higher proportion of metalled roads because of the easy availability of road building materials.
  • In the North eastern states; the road net work is very sparse due to hilly terrain, thick forest cover and heavy rains causing frequent floods. Sparse population is also the other important reason.

The pattern of road density is also uneven in the country. It varies from region to region depending upon its relief and climatic conditions, economic development and density of population.

  • Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana have higher road density. It is because of the growth of agriculture, manufacturing industries, urbanization and dense population.
  • Karnataka and Maharashtra also fall in high road density category, reason behind this is concentration of industries and urbanization.
  • The states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar have moderate density of roads.
  • In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the density of road is low due to low population and low economic development.
  • The Himalayan region and North Eastern states have very low density of road network, which is below 20 km per 100 square km area.
  • As regards the pattern of surfaced roads, Punjab in the north and Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south have the highest road density.
  • The southern states have a good network of metalled roads. The pattern of surfaced road density is more or less the same as the total density of roads.

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Roads Classification

Roads are divided into three categories –

  1. National highways,
  2. State highways,
  3. District and village roads.

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  • National Highways are the trunk roads linking major cities of the country. They are built and maintained by the Central Government.
    • Their total length is 65,500 km.
    • Although the national highways comprise only about 2 percent of the total length of surfaced roads in India, they carry about 40% of goods and passenger traffic.
    • There are 200+ national highways in the country. Some of them are very important as they carry the bulk of road traffic.
    • National Highway No.7 is the longest (2683 km) of all, linking Varanasi in the north with Kanya Kumari in the south.
  • State Highways are built and maintained by the State Governments. They connect the district headquarters with state capital.
  • District and Village roads are looked after by the local bodies with some financial assistance coming from the states. They connect the villages with small towns and district headquarters.
  • Border roads have been constructed in the remote parts of the country lying close international border.
    • They connect these areas with the interior parts of the country.
    • The responsibility of their construction and maintenance is on Border Road Organisation.
    • These roads have economic as well as strategic importance.
    • Leh and Manali Road, the world’s highest road, is an example of our engineering skill and courage. The average height of this road is 4270 meters above sea level.
    • Most of our border roads run through areas of very harsh climate and most inhospitable terrains.

Recent Development Of Roads Under National Highway Development Project (NHDP)

In order to boost economic development in the country the Government of India initiated a programme called National Highway Development Programme (NHDP). NHDP has already completed two phases and third phase is ready to be implemented.

The first two phases have the following components –

  • Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) comprising National Highway connecting four metro cities viz, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Total length of the Golden Quadrilateral is 5846 km.
  • North-South and East-West corridors comprises the national highways connecting Srinagar to Kanyakumari including Kochi-Salem spur and Silchar to Porbundur. The total length of the corridors is about 7300 km.
  • Four laning of about 356 km of highways to provide connectivity to 12 major ports and 777 km on other highways.

Apart from this National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has already planned another five phases of NHDP. These are as follows –

  • Four laning of 10,000 km of National Highways through Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. (Phase-III).
  • (ii) Two laning and providing paved shoulders of 20,000 km of National Highway (Phase IV).
  • (iii) Six laning of 5000 km of National Highways (Phase V).
  • (iv) Development of 1000 km of Express ways (Phase VI).
  • (v) Construction of Ring Roads, By passes, Flyovers etc. to remove the bottlenecks on National Highways.
  • (vi) Apart from this, development of National Highways and other roads in the North-Eastern Region is planned under Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in NE Region (SARDP-NE).

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Bibliography : NIOS Geography Book

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