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Closing infra gap with China

Closing infra gap with China

The shortcomings of India´s infrastructure are often lamented. But statistical aggregates suggest that the South Asian nation has caught up to – or even surpassed – China in some respects. In other areas, it is not far behind.

By some measures, India has caught up to or surpassed China in the agricultural and transport sectors. In terms of information technology infrastructure, India is a handful of years behind China on average. The widest gap is in the realm of energy. Comparisons do not account for differences in quality or age of infrastructure. Agriculture India is ahead in the agricultural sector. As of 2010, 35.2 per cent of India´s farmland had reliable irrigation, according to the World Bank. In 2006, the most recent year of available comparable data, 33.6 per cent of India´s agricultural land was irrigated, compared with 10.3 per cent for China and 36.1 per cent for Japan.

Transport
India has closed or nearly closed the gap with China in many areas of transport. India has a larger road network – about 4.7 million kilometres, compared with 4.1 million kilometres in China in 2011. Fifty-four per cent of India´s roads are paved, not far behind China´s 64 per cent share. China´s rail network was just 3 per cent larger than India´s in 2012, according to the latest available data from the World Bank. China´s railways transport more goods – 2.5 billion tonne per kilometre compared with 0.6 for India. On the other hand, India´s rail system transports more passengers – 979 billion passengers per kilometre, compared with 796 billion for China. In terms of raw air and sea transport capacity, India is more than a decade behind China. India had 253 airports with paved runways in 2013, compared with 463 for China. The amount of air freight by weight shipped in India was 1.7 billion tonne per kilometre – about a tenth of what China ships today. India´s container port traffic in 2013 was about 6 per cent of China´s 174 million 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) shipments in 2013 and about a quarter of China´s shipments in 2000.

However, much of India´s effective shortfall in air and sea transport infrastructure gets whittled down once China´s larger landmass and coastline are factored into the assessment. China is about three times the size of India and China´s coastline a bit more than twice the length of India´s. There is no need for a population adjustment, as both of these Asian giants now have close to 1.3 billion inhabitants.

Technology
In terms of information technology infrastructure, India is a handful of years behind China on average. India had more mobile cellular subscriptions per capita than China in 2011, and India had about the same amount of secure Internet servers by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, the number of fixed wired broadband subscriptions per capita in India lags China by a decade, and the lag in terms of the number of Internet users is about seven years. India had about 13 automated teller machines per 100,000 adults in 2013, about the same ratio China had six years earlier.

Energy
Electric power is where the most catchup work needs to be done. India appears about a generation behind China in terms of energy infrastructure, though improvements in energy efficiency would help India close the effective gap in a shorter period of time. Less than 80 per cent of India´s population had access to electricity as of 2012, whereas access is universal in China and has been above 94 per cent since 1990. Electric power transmission and distribution losses amounted to 17.1 per cent of output in India in 2012, according to the latest World Bank data available, compared with 5.8 per cent in China. Between 1971 and 2012, India´s average loss was 20 per cent, whereas China´s losses never exceeded 8.25 per cent. India consumed 744 kilowatt hours per capita in 2012, about the same amount of consumption in China in 1994.

India´s shortfall in energy infrastructure, along with a dependence on oil imports that exacerbates the country´s fiscal and current account deficits when oil prices rise sharply, together increase the appeal of alternative energy sources. India´s more widespread adoption of alternative energy sources would hit many birds with one stone.

This article has been authored by Bloomberg Intelligence.

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