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India’s terrible roads: how to build a world-class network and still reach net zero

Alex Graves, CC BY-SA

India’s terrible roads: how to build a world-class network and still reach net zero

Alex Graves, CC BY-SA

India’s terrible roads: how to build a world-class network and still reach net zero

Alex Graves, CC BY-SA

India’s terrible roads: how to build a world-class network and still reach net zero

Alex Graves, CC BY-SA

India, too, has tripled its highways over the same duration, but the network is far less impressive.

Uma S Kambhampati, University of Reading and Subham Kailthya, University of Warwick

One of the keys to China’s economic renaissance over the past couple of decades is often overlooked. Namely, it has built a lot of roads.

China’s highways have more or less tripled from around 50,000km in 2000 to around 160,000km by the end of 2020. This means that in just two decades, China has added highways that are 20% longer than the entire US interstate highway system, and these make up about 40% of all roads in the country.

India, too, has tripled its highways over the same duration, but the network is far less impressive. They are lower quality, narrower, less well maintained and only make up a very small part of the total system of roads in the country.

This is arguably one of the reasons why its economy has substantially underperformed China’s over the past 20 years: China’s GDP grew 12-fold to be worth US$14.7 trillion (£10.8 trillion) by 2020, while India’s grew six-fold to be worth US$2.6 trillion over the same period.

China vs India GDP growth (2000-2020)

Graph comparing growth in India and China

World Bank

So why has India been much poorer at building roads? And with Prime Minister Modi having just committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2070, is it possible to build roads and decarbonise at the same time?

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