India is a big sub continent with long distances from South to North and East to West. Roads normally connect one place to the other. With the invention of the Railway engine the Britishers were kind enough to develop this mode of transport connecting important places. Unfortunately they had not taken much interest to develop the roadways. Thus when the country became independent in 1947 the country had a fairly good railway system but not so good roadways. With the advent of the 5 year plans the Railways took to developing new routes, conversion to single gauge tracks from the earlier multiple gauge systems, providing better facilities to passengers and goods transporters, electrification of the routes, indigenous production of locos, coaches and all other required equipments. Thus today the railways are a very important system catering to the transporting needs of the country.

However the 5 year plans did not have a vision for the country’s transportation needs. There was no comprehensive plan to take care of the various transportation needs of the country. Over the past several decades much emphasis has been laid on the development of the automobile sector and the roadways. This mode of transport requires a huge quantity of petroleum fuel. India has always been a large importer of petroleum products almost to the extent of 75 to 80% because of the small availability within the country. With the cost of crude oil rising sharply over the years this has cast a huge burden on the economy leading to balance of payment problems.

We find today a host of problems in the entire transportation scenario due to various factors. The objective of this paper is to explore what the transport and fuel policy should be, remedy the current problems and the future requirements.


India is a vast country with different geographical features including mountains, rivers, deserts, and areas on the shores of seas.

India comprises a large number of villages, cities, towns, metropolitan cities and mega metropolitan cities having different levels of population and development.

The connectivity in India can be classified into the following:

I .  Intra city - that is within the village, city, metros etc.

Ii . Inter city – That is between neighbouring villages, cities, metros, etc.

iii. Intra State – That is within the State

  1. Inter State – That is between neighbouring States
  2. National - That is connecting different parts of the entire nation.
  3. Transportation is basically of two types
  • Transportation of people     -      Individual/Personal

                                                  -      Mass

  • Transportation of Goods      -     Small

                                                  -      Bulk


  1. Intra city transport

The dimensions of intra city transport differ from place to place.

In a small place like a village people move about mostly on foot or in bicycles or two wheelers. There is no need for any mass transport system. Goods are also moved in push carts, bullock carts or small automobile vehicles.

In a small town apart from the above, people may use cars for personal transport and Lorries for goods transport. In most places there would be no public transport and the gap will be filled by private operators using tempos, mini vans etc.

In bigger cities people may be having the benefit of public transport to move within the city but the services may be inadequate to meet the needs of the population.

In Metros and bigger cities the public transportation system may consist of  buses, local/suburban Railways, Metro rails, Mono rail and also private transporters in the form of taxis, auto rickshaws, school buses, buses used by private and public companies, etc.

  1. Inter city transport / Intra State / Inter State

Intercity, Intra State and Inter State transport systems mainly consist of roads and railways and in some parts waterways and airways.

In most of the places it is the roadways that connect one city with another as the railway network cannot be that widespread in interior areas and mountainous terrains.

  1. National Transport

The National Transport scenario consists of Roadways and Railways running through the length and breadth of the country forming an important means of transporting people and goods across the country. While the roads have been given lot of importance due to the growth of the automobile sector the railways have been neglected leading to steep deterioration in its efficiency.

There has also been a tremendous growth in the Air travel facilities with more number of cities being connected by airlines and development of Airports at existing and new places. This has also helped in the faster movement of people and goods from one place to the other.


  1. Advantages and disadvantages of different means of Transport.


                                ADVANTAGES                                              DISADVANTAGES

               Low Capital Cost                                                       Useful for travelling Short Distances

                Negligible Recurring/maintenance costs                      Can carry only one / Two persons

                Nil pollution                                                               Slow Moving

                                                                                                Cannot carry goods

Animal drawn carts

               Low Capital Cost                                                       Useful for travelling Short Distances

                Negligible Recurring/maintenance costs                      Can carry only few persons

                Nil pollution                                                               Slow Moving

                Can carry small loads of goods also              

               Fodder for the cattle can be grown in

                 The fields

Scooters/motorcycles/ two wheelers

                   Capital cost is little higher but affordable                         can carry only two persons

                    They run faster and hence reach                                    Can carry only small goods              

                     destinations quickly                                                      Run on petrol

                                                                                                       Cause pollution

                                                                                                       Recurring costs higher

Autorickshaws/ three wheelers

        Capital cost is not very high                                          Can carry only three persons

        Can carry three persons                                               Consumes petrol/ diesel/gas

        Useful for transporting people for                                     causes air / noise pollution

           short distances within towns and cities                  

       Useful to reach other means of transport

            like rail, bus, airplanes.

       A modified version is used to carry goods                 Can carry only small loads of goods

            for short distances within the city


Cars / four wheelers

They can carry from 4 to 8 persons                                        Capital cost is high

Useful for intra city and intercity movement                             They run on petrol/diesel/gas

They run faster                                                                    Cause air/noise pollution

When used as taxis it is useful to transport                             Need larger parking spaces

       people not owning cars and also tourists                         Cause traffic jams

Useful to reach other means of transport                                Most of the times only single person

 like rail, bus, airplanes                                                           is travelling in the vehicles


Buses –

They can carry from 50 to 60 persons                                Capital cost is high

Useful for intra city and intercity movement                        They run on petrol/diesel/gas

They run faster

Useful to reach other means of transport

            Like rail, bus, airplanes, metro

It is a mass transport vehicle

It is cheaper compared to cars

Cause less pollution per person

They are run by both public and private bodies

They use less fuel per person

They can link interior places including mountains



They can carry hundreds of persons                               Capital cost is very high

Useful for intercity and long distance transport                They run on diesel/ Electricity

They run faster than buses                                             Cannot link all places

They can carry bulk and heavy goods                              Maintenance / administrative costs

It is a mass transport vehicle                                               are very high

Used even in intra city transport like

    Suburban / metro railways

It is much cheaper to buses and personal cars

They use less fuel per person


Lorries/ containers/tankers

These are goods transport vehicles                                  Capital cost is high

Can reach any place where roads are laid                        Run on diesel/gas

Can carry moderately heavy goods                                 Can carry only limited quantity/ volume

Can carry from origin of goods to                                         of goods

   various user destinations                                             Cost of  infrastructure (like roads, bridges)                                  

                                                                                                creation & maintenance is very high  

                                                                                    When used over long distances fuel

                                                                                                   efficiency is very low



They can carry both people and goods                               Capital cost is very high

Used for inter city transport                                                Cost of  infrastructure (like airports)                                 

Can travel very fast                                                                  creation & maintenance is very high  

Can carry a more number of people than buses                   Run on expensive high quality fuels

Can carry heavy/ bulk goods also                                           When used for short distances the

  It is very useful in international                                          Cost and wastage is high

        movement of people and cargo



 Disadvantages of the present Transport Model

We have seen above the various types of transport vehicles and their advantages and disadvantages. It could be seen that most of the present day vehicles use petroleum products for their running.  As India imports more than 80% of its petroleum requirement this has put a huge burden on the country’s foreign exchange resources and is a major cause for the Current Account Deficit. The major defects/disadvantages/ deficiencies in the present transport model are outlined below.

  1. There is heavy dependence on petroleum products which have become costly and puts a heavy burden on the Foreign Exchange resources of the country.
  2. The present model requires huge investment for building roads, bridges, flyovers, expressways, highways, airports, etc for both intra city and inter city movement of vehicles.
  3. The vehicles cause high levels of atmospheric pollution both within the cities and also on the high ways.
  4. Cars running without the maximum number of persons, are highly fuel inefficient and casts a huge burden on petroleum requirement.
  5. Buses and goods transport vehicles are seen to run from one end of the country to another end covering long distances. This also is highly fuel inefficient and also requires huge investment on infrastructure.
  6. Preference has been given to individual transport vehicles like cars and two wheelers over mass transport vehicles like trains and buses.
  7. There is no encouragement for use of mass transport vehicles.
  8. There is no adequate funding for improving the mass transport systems like railways, Buses, Suburban trains, etc.
  9. There is no encouragement/ facilities/ incentives for use of bicycles which is pollution free and does not consume any fuel.
  10. Airports have been built in various small cities at huge costs after acquiring valuable agricultural lands. They are either not used at all or underutilized because of the reluctance of airlines to run services from these places due to economic non feasibility. Thus huge funds are wasted for the travel needs of a few people. Had these funds been used to run trains and buses they would have catered to a large number of people.


Suggestions for a better transport model

  1. The policy should take into consideration the long term perspectives regarding the availability and types of fuel.
  2. The policy should aim at optimum use of the imported petroleum products which has a severe impact on the balance of payments situation.
  3. Preference should be given for development of fuel efficient mass transport systems.
  4. Manufacturing and sale of individual transport vehicles like cars and suvs should be discouraged and disincentivised.


  2. The railways should be made the most important means for transport of people and goods.
  3. The existing network should be strengthened by extending the lines to all major towns and cities which are not yet connected.
  4. There should be a Railway Station within a distance of say 100 to 200 kms from any place.
  5. Double lines with electrification should be undertaken on all major routes.
  6. Dedicated double tracks with electrification should be laid for movement of cargo.
  7. Waterproof and pilfer proof containers / wagons should be developed for safe and damage proof movement of goods.
  8. Special cold storage containers should be developed for transporting perishable items like fruits and vegetables.
  9. All cargo bookings and transportation should be fully computerized and the movement of goods should be tracked on line till they are delivered at the destination
  10. All passenger trains should have one or two goods wagons attached and their capacity should be fully utilized for transporting goods faster and safer.
  11. Safety of the goods should be ensured and pilferage and damage reduced to the minimum.
  12. Proper insurance of the goods should be ensured and fair compensation should be quickly given for any loss or damage to the goods during transit.
  13. The passenger facilities should be enhanced with better maintenance of the coaches, railway stations etc.
  14. A Railway Tariff Regulatory Authority should be constituted on the lines of the IRDA, Central Electricity Authority, TRAI, etc. This authority will determine the fares for passengers and the freight tariffs keeping in view the costs and other developments. This will avoid the political and bureaucratic interference and make the railways efficient and viable.
  15. The Central and State Governments should provide sufficient funds to the Railways and also speedily clear any bottlenecks in the implementation of their projects.
  16. Wherever EMU services exists in cities like Mumbai, Chennai etc. , sufficient funds should be allotted to improve the coach designs, tracks, signalling,  infrastructure in stations, safety, maintenance, etc.
  17. The railways may also be converted into a Public Sector Unit so that political interference can be reduced to the minimum.
  18. The Railways should undertake sufficient recruitments at various levels to run the system efficiently so that the safety of the passengers and the goods are ensured at all times.
  19. The railways should upgrade all their services and equipments taking advantage of the latest advances in science and technology so that the railways run smoothly with maximum safety of the passengers and the goods and with minimum accidents.




  2. Passenger transport
  3. Intra city transport
  • The efficiency of the city transport services should be greatly improved
  • The bus routes should be scientifically chosen so that the maximum number of people are catered to
  • The frequency of the services should be managed so that people are not made to wait for a long time
  • During peak hours additional services should be run so that school goers, office goers are fully catered to
  • The buses should be well maintained and comfortable for the passengers
  • The conductors and drivers should be properly trained to be courteous and helpful to the passengers
  • The central and state governments should subsidise the cost of fuel, fares etc
  • The fares should be attractive compared to other private means of transport so that more and more people are encouraged to use the public transport buses
  • The use of alternate fuels like bio diesel should be encouraged so that dependence on petroleum fuels is reduces
  • Technology should be put to good use by developing buses that can run on solar power, electricity, etc.
  • In major cities separate dedicated bus lanes should be earmarked on all important roads so that buses do not get stranded in traffic jams and can reach their destinations on time
  • Big industries, schools and colleges and corporate offices that have large work force can be encouraged to hire buses from the transport corporations to run on pre determined routes during specific hours. These buses could be used to carry general public during the other times.
  1. Intercity transport
  • Intercity transport by buses should normally be restricted to distances of say around 500 kms from point to point.
  • Buses should also be run to connect the nearest Railway Stations from different places within a radius of 500 kms from the railway station.
  • Sufficient number of buses should be run on all the routes to cater to the needs of the travellers so that everyone has a seat and can travel comfortably.
  • Buses should be maintained clean, attractive and comfortable.
  • Buses should be serviced regularly so that they run efficiently and with least fuel cost.
  • Technology should be developed to produce buses that run on alternate fuels so that consumption of petroleum products is reduced.



  1. Transport of Cargo
  • Transport of cargo by road should be only for short distances say between 600 to 700 kms.
  • For longer distances the railways should be used.
  • Road transport should be used to carry cargo to the nearest railway station for long distance transport.
  • The use of containers should be encouraged so that damage to goods while loading and unloading is minimized.
  • Small volume goods from different persons going to the same destination should be pooled together and transported in a single container for greater efficiency and safety.



  • Transport of people and cargo by means of aero planes has become very popular of late.
  • The government has also liberalized the policy enabling private companies also to operate air services. Hence a number of private companies also provide air connectivity along with the government owned companies.
  • The government has invested a very huge amount of resources to construct airports in a number of places apart from expanding the older airports.
  • However the aircrafts require high quality petroleum fuels which are to be imported casting a burden on the Balance of Payments.
  • A number of air companies have been forced to close their operations and have become sick putting a huge burden on the financial institutions which have financed them.
  • A number of airports constructed at great costs after acquiring valuable agricultural lands are not utilized or underutilized due to reluctance of air companies to operate services to these places.
  • The number of persons an aircraft can carry is very small compared to what a railway train can carry.
  • Air connectivity is available only between very few important cities.
  • The only advantage is that air travel is much faster than other modes of transport.
  • The use of air transport should be reduced drastically to save on the petroleum costs
  • It should be made very expensive so that only those who could afford it will travel by air.
  • It could be subsidised for those who are ill and require urgent medical treatment and cannot travel by other means of transport.
  • The funds thus saved should be used for developing and improving other means of transport.




Transport over water mainly consists of two types – Inland water transport and Sea/ ocean transport.

Inland Water Transport

  • The inland water transport was a popular means of carrying people and cargo since the invention of boats, catamarans, canoes etc.
  • The long rivers and their tributaries were widely used till the last century
  • With the advent of motor boats and small vessels the transportation was much faster
  • However they also caused a burden by way of diesel costs as well as polluting the rivers.
  • With the construction of huge dams across the rivers there has been a severe set back in using the water systems for transport purposes.
  • Water is available only during the rainy season when the excess water is released from the dams. During other times long stretches of the rivers remain dry due to lack of water.


Ocean transport

  • India has a very long coast with a number of major and minor ports situated all along it.
  • Though ocean transport is widely used between countries the use for transporting goods between Indian cities is not very popular.
  • There is need to consider using the sea for transporting bulk materials like coal, ores, etc between cities having sea ports and harbours.


In view of the drastic changes in the type and quantum of available fuels and their increasing costs there is an urgent need to evaluate  the existing transportation scenario, their drawbacks, disadvantages and costs.

It is therefore imperative that an immediate exercise be undertaken to formulate a new transport policy on the lines suggested above so that the precious resources of the country, both in Indian rupees as well as in foreign currency, are utilised in the best possible manner and would also take care of our present and future needs. There is an urgent need to move away from individual luxurious transportation to mass, comfortable and economical transportation.


Kaushik Vichar

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