August , 2019
Social and physical infrastructure challenges in India
14:53 pm

Deepti Tara and Rajiv Khosla

Developed infrastructure is considered to be a hallmark of growth and advancement of an economy. It is because good infrastructure assists in raising productivity, lowering down production costs, improving living standards of the people, alleviating poverty and expanding trade. Keeping its merits in mind, economists worldwide consider infrastructure facilities as the wheels of economic activity, if not the engine.

Genesis of the term ‘infrastructure’

The term infrastructure originated as a military term during World War I wherein it was primarily used to refer to the oil pipelines as well as other capital items. However, in economic literature both ‘infrastructure’ and ‘social overhead capital’ have been used synonymously. Of late, World Development Report (1994) divided infra-structure into economic or physical and social infrastructure. Economic infrastructure includes services such as electricity, transport, roads, water system, commu-nications, irrigation etc. while social infrastructure includes education and health facilities. However, different countries have experienced a wide regional disparity in their development levels attributed to the use of advanced infra-
structure. Infact, use of advanced and modern facilities in one country puts pressure on the governments of other countries to accelerate the pace of national development and make necessary institutional changes to improve the standard of living of citizens.

Social infrastructure in India

To improve the economic growth and quality of life, development of social infrastructure such as education, skill development and health is considered essential. An assessment of these parameters is carried out in the subsections below.

Education: The quality of education is a prickly issue in the country as education affects quality of life, efficiency of employees at the workplace and labour productivity. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2018 states that Indian children have a huge learning deficit where one in every two students (50.3%) in Indian schools lack basic reading ability not just of their own grade but also of those of three levels below. Similarly, just 44.1% of class VIII students could do simple division. Present central government claims to have achieved a mammoth task by introducing the deadline (March 2020) to train all unqualified school teachers, making Board examinations compulsory for class X (CBSE) students and introducing mechanisms to monitor performance of states under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan online besides constructing toilets in all government schools. However, these claims to improve the quality of education turn out to be minuscule when they are placed for comparison against other countries.

Understandably, a gloomy scenario has emerged owing to the lesser expenditure on educational infrastructure by the government. The same justification may be extended in the case wherein none of the Indian institutions could make it to the top 200 world university rankings (in 2018) though we created the Takshashila and Nalanda universities in our illustrious history. Associated with it, is the problem of availability of skilled labour force, the solution to which also requires timely action by extravagantly spending towards education and skill development - right from the primary classes. However, so far only lip sympathy has been shown when it comes to imparting of skills to the labour force. In India, a consensus on the clear definition of the term ‘skill’ awaits decision.

Health sector: The conditions are not congenial in case of the health sector as well. Lack of hospitals, lesser number of doctors, ill-equipped health professionals, and paucity of funds characterises the Indian health sector. A survey carried out by the National Sample Survey Organization in 2016 highlighted that one out of every four Indian allopathic physicians do not have the requisite qualifications. Further, two-thirds of doctors, nurses, and midwives are working in urban
areas where only 30% of Indians live. Similarly, a study published in British Medical Journal in 2018 stated that there is a severe underrepresentation of women doctors whose proportion stands not more than 41% in the Indian health institutions. In addition to this, more than 80% of Indian doctors and 70% of nurses and midwives are ready to join the private sector.

These figures speak volumes about the poor state of the health sector in India. A comparison of health indicators at the world level is also given. Clearly, it can be highlighted that we have a dearth of public expenditure in the health sector which stands at just 3.9% which is less in all respects and probably the root cause of India’s ailing health sector. 

Physical infrastructure in India

In order to keep the economic momentum going, it becomes imperative to strengthen infrastructure facilities like transportation, energy and communication etc. A glimpse of the access and quality of physical infrastructure available in India vis-à-vis other countries of world stands testimony to the fact that quality of infrastructure is not only poor but rather short in supply in India.

It is clear from the following table in context of air transportation of measured in metric tonnes, that the quantity is far less than the East Asian and Pacific regions and the world average. Similarly, container port traffic i.e. the flow of containers from land to sea transport modes, and vice versa, in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in a standard-size container is also low vis-à-vis East Asian and Pacific regions and also compared to the world average. In context of road traffic, India figures high in mortality caused by road traffic injury (per 100000 population) in comparison to the other countries. Similarly, in case of access to information and communications, our standing is far from satisfactory in contrast to the other countries.

Except for the time required in getting electricity connection (55 days), India’s performance has remained appalling. In the absence of quality infrastructure, high rate of economic growth (even though attained) cannot be sustained. Improvement in it calls for a timely and speedy action by the policymakers.

An unambiguous and proper effort made in the direction of expanding education, health facilities, and physical infrastructure can also help to improve their quality which can further ensure a reduction in poverty, improvement in human development and sustaining high rates of economic growth in India.

India and the World: Comparison of access and quality of education


Nature of                                Population With    Gross      Primary  Government           Skilled labour

the economy           Countryatleast some           Enrolment              School     expenditure            force percentage                                    secondary                Ratio*     Dropouton education          of total labour                                        education for                         Rate                        force                                                        25 years & older

                                (in %)      (Primary)                 (% of GDP)                           

                                2006-2017               2016        2016        (2012-17)                (2011-17)

Highly     Norway   95.5         100          0.4           7.7           82.4

developed                Switzerland             96.8         104          0.6           5.1           85.7

                Australia  90            101          -               5.2           78.3

                Brazil       60            115          -               5.9           62

                Russia     95.6         102          0.7           3.8           96.1

BRICS    India        51.6         115          9.8           3.8           18.5

                China       77.4         101          -               -               -

                South Africa            75.7         103          -               5.9           47.2

East Asia and Pacific               71            103          -               -               -

World Average                        66.5         105          21.4         4.8           47.9


Source: UNDP Human Development Indices and Indicators (Statistical Update), 2018


Health indicators for India and other countries of the world


Nature    CountryChild malnutrition                Infant mortality    Physicians              Hospital  Current health

of the                      percentage under  rate (per thousand                per 10000               beds perexpenditure

economy                 age 5 years of age  life birth)                people     1000 people            (percent of GDP

                Year        (2010-2016)            (2016)     (2007 to   2007-14   (2015)


Highly     Norway   -               2.1           43.9         33            10

developed                Switzerland             -               3.6           42.5         50            12.1

countries  Australia  2              3.1           35            39            9.4

                Brazil       7.1           13.5         18.5         23            8.9

                Russia     -               6.6           39.8         97            5.6

BRICS    India        37.9         34.6         7.6           7              3.9

                China       8.1           8.5           36.3         38            5.3

                South Africa            27.4         34.2         8.2           28            8.2

East Asia and Pacific            17.8         14.2         27.5         31            5.1

World Average                      27.4         29.9         18.3         27            9.9


Source: UNDP Human Development Indices and Indicators (Statistical Update), 2018


India and the World: Comparison of the quality of physical infrastructural indicators


Nature of                CountryAir transport,        Railways goods     Container port traffic           Mortality caused

the economy                           freight (million       transported            TEU : 20 foot         by road traffic injury

                                ton- km)(million ton- km)   equivalent units     (per 100000 population)

                Year        2017        2017        2017        2016

Highly     Norway   -               -               826500    2.7

developed                Switzerland             1581.35   8492.34   108061    2.7

countries  Australia  1982.58   -               7693643  5.6

                Brazil       1736.54   -               10049282                19.7

                Russian   6845.22   2491876  4515000  18

BRICS    Federation

                India        2407.32   620175    13259000                22.6

                China       23323.612146466  213719925              18.2

                South Africa            833.93     -               4634900  25.9

East Asia and Pacific            74001.43-               415518321              16.90

World Average                      213590.25               -               752704435              18.13

Source: UNDP Human Development Indices and Indicators (Statistical Update), 2018


India and the World: Comparison of the quality of physical infrastructural indicators


Nature of                CountryTime required        Internet users        Mobile phone         Fixed broadband

the economy                           to get electricity      (% of      subscriptions         Subscriptions

                                (days)     population)            (per 100 people)     per 100 people

                Year        2017        2016        2016        2017

Highly     Norway   66            97.3         109          40.64

developed                Switzerland             39            89.1         133.8       46.12

                Australia  75            88.2         110.1       32.40

                Brazil       88            60.9         117.5       13.80

                Russian   73            73.1         159.2       21.60

BRICS    Federation

                India        55            29.5         85.2         1.33

                China       34            53.2         97.3         27.97

                South Africa            109          54            147.1       1.98

East Asia and Pacific            64.4         48.4         107.7       21.97

World Average                      86.4         45.7         100.5       13.69


Source: UNDP Human Development Indices and Indicators (Statistical Update), 2018

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