India’s Infrastructure Problem

If you’ve ever been to India, you’re bound to snicker a bit every time you read some business story about India becoming an economic superpower. Doesn’t that require some decent roads first, and air you can actually breathe? India may be a cheap place for travelers, but it doesn’t come easy. The cities are just a nightmare. Nearly every writer seems to resort to the “assault on the senses” phrase, but it’s more like your senses are disabled—disabled by the noise pollution, air pollution, and so much chaos in front of your eyes around every turn that it’s hard to focus on anything.

India travel

This story in Business Week runs down the problem in Bangalore, the country’s tech hub: The Trouble With India. Here are two telling quotes.

“With virtually no mass transit in Bangalore, Indian technology firm Infosys Technologies Ltd. spends $5 million a year on buses, minivans, and taxis to transport its 18,000 employees to and from Electronics City. And traffic jams mean workers can spend upwards of four hours commuting each day. “India has underinvested in infrastructure for 60 years, and we’re behind what we need by 10 to 12 years,” says T.V. Mohandas Pai, director of human resources for Infosys.”

“Across the state of Maharashtra, major cities lose power one day a week to relieve pressure on the grid. In Pune, a city of 4.5 million, it’s lights out every Thursday—forcing factories to maintain expensive backup generators. Government officials were shocked last year when Intel Corp. (INTC ) chose Vietnam over India as the site for a new chip assembly plant. Although Intel declined to comment, industry insiders say the reason was largely the lack of reliable power and water in India.”

With the rate India’s population and business growth is going up, if they doubled their infrastructure spending right now it would probably still take them a decade to catch up. Can they ever get there? The god Shiva says something to the effect that sometimes there need to be destruction in order to have creation. What kind of disaster is going to have to hit before the massive upgrading begins?

The full article is a long one, but it’s worth reading through to see the whole picture. There are not many easy answers, with political fighting, massive corruption, and a huge national debt load being just a few obstacles. That’s not holding tourism back though: “In a country with only 25,000 tourist-class hotel rooms (compared with more than 140,000 in Las Vegas alone), companies including Hilton, Wyndham, and Ramada have plans for 75,000 rooms on their drawing boards.”

[image from Business Week]



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