What Is Infrastructure?
A country needs some basic amenities and services to function properly. Without these, the life of the citizens and the smooth work of the businesses cannot happen. These amenities and services are called Infrastructure as a whole. To term service as infrastructure, you have to see if that service has some kind of physical aspect. For example, the transport service includes buses, bus stands, petro pumps etc. So we can call the whole service as transport infrastructure. Without a group of infrastructure, our life would come to a standstill.
Importance of Infrastructure
A country cannot transition to a developed nation if she has poor infrastructure. It is the infrastructure that helps the industries, businesses, farms and shops to work without any obstruction. If someday you decide to set up a car manufacturing unit, your plan will fail if the road near the manufacturing is not developed. It is like you bring raw materials to your unit and your unit cannot send finished products to the market.
One infrastructure is linked to other infrastructure and services. So the lack of one can hurt the other. For example, if a nation does not have adequate mining infrastructure, it cannot mine an adequate amount of coal. As a result, the power supply infrastructure will face trouble. Lack of adequate power supply, in turn, can lead to huge problems in other sectors. So when a government or private entity decides to improve infrastructure, it will not help the things that are directly connected. It will have a domino effect.
Infrastructure does not just help businesses, it can impact the personal lives of the citizens. A place where there is no hospital will see a rise in the mortality rate. A place where there are enough schools and colleges will help in improving the literacy rates. A place with excellent power supply will provide its citizens with a higher living standard.
Infrastructure In India
To discuss the infrastructure development in India, it is necessary to shed light on what condition the British left India when they were forced to return to their country. Shashi Tharoor in his book - An Era of Darkness: The British Empire In India says, “In 1600, when the East India Company was established, Britain was producing just 1.8% of the world’s GDP, while India was generating some 23%. By 1940, after nearly two centuries of the Raj, Britain accounted for nearly 10% of world GDP, while India had been reduced to a poor ‘third-world’ country, destitute and starving, a global poster child of poverty and famine.”
So in 1947, India could be considered a poor nation. As far as the infrastructure is considered, a developing nation must build basic or primary infrastructure. Thus the First Five Year Plan concentrated on building irrigation, agriculture and energy. Along with that, the planners had the foresight to include communication, education (IITs) and transport in the infrastructure enhancement planning.
The Run-Up to the Liberalisation
Once the primary infrastructure development was set in motion, the government took more ambitious plans like setting up the Atomic Energy Commission of India. The second and third Five Year Plan put into motion rapid industrialisation. However, the wars with China and Pakistan derailed the infrastructural reforms to a large extent. These wars taught the government to invest in defence-related infrastructure.
The Liberalisation of the 1990s
Even though adequate planning was done, the economy of India was in shambles. The infrastructure development stagnated. The government realised that it is necessary to release the monopoly that it had over many sectors. Finally, the Narasimha Rao government opened the doors of India to the foreign players allowing 51% foreign equity participation. This led to the influx of new technologies and greater experience. The Economic Liberalisation, along with the Public-Private-Partnership, helped immensely in India’s infrastructure growth. For example, the telecom sector was reeling under government monopoly. When it was opened up to the private players, the sector saw huge growth and this helped in establishing an acceptable telecommunication infrastructure in India.
Energy Infrastructure in India
The textbook has excellent information on energy infrastructure. To have a future of infrastructure in India, the energy sector, particularly the Power Sector needs an overhaul. The current government of India is doing all in its capacity to do that. India relies on legacy power infrastructure. This results in poor electric supply along with huge losses for the electricity boards. On the other hand, people also think that they are paying more for electricity consumption. The Modi government has invested $35 billion to upgrade the energy infrastructure in India.
Health Infrastructure In India
When it comes to health, India is divided into two categories: rich and poor. The rich people have access to private hospitals. The private healthcare infrastructure in India is by and large acceptable. However, it is not possible for poor people to afford the services of private hospitals.
The public hospitals on the other hand are poorly maintained. In 2015, India spent just 1% of the GDP on public health infrastructure. Lack of doctors and nurses, negligent attitude from the government and doctors’ aversion towards joining public hospitals contribute to the unfortunate condition of the public hospitals.
Urban Infrastructure In India
Amid all the reports of gloom, the good news is that the Urban Infrastructure in India is quite acceptable. According to a survey conducted by GIIA-Ipsos Global Infrastructure Index 2019, 57% of the urban Indians feel that the infrastructure conditions are good.
However, upgrades need to be done in order to make the Urban infrastructure in India environment friendly. Nuclear power, solar power, electric vehicles, e-waste management etc. should be addressed much more effectively. The future infrastructure projects in India must take into account global warming concern while being planned.
Did You Know?
The ‘infra’ in infrastructure comes from the Latin word which means under or below. Does that mean we should consider only those structures that are built from within the ground as infrastructure? No? What infra means here is ‘underlying’ not just under. It’s logical. Infrastructure is the underlying support that the non-tangible things like quality of life, education, health etc. can get.