Kriyaa Hi Vastoopahutaa Praseedati

Indian and World Geography, Study Materials

Transport, communication and International Trade in India

  • All the production is meant for consumption. From the fields and factory, the produce is brought to the place from where consumers purchase it. It is the transportation of these items from the site of their production to the market which make them available to the consumer. 
  • The use of transport and communication depends upon our need to move things from place of their availability to the place of their use. Human-beings use various methods to move goods, commodities, ideas from one place to another. 

10.1. Land Transport

The pathways and unmetalled roads have been used for transportation in India since ancient times. With economic and technological development, metalled roads and railways were developed to move large volumes of goods and people from one place to another. 

10.1.1. Road Transport

  • India has one of the largest road networks in the world with a total length of 33.1 lakh km (2005). About 85 percent of passengers and 70 percent of freight traffic are carried by roads every year. Road transport is relatively suitable for shorter distance travel. Road transport in modern sense was very limited in India before World War-II.
  • The first serious attempt was made in 1943 when the ‘Nagpur Plan’ was drawn. This plan could not be implemented due to lack of coordination among the princely states and British India. 
  • After Independence, a twenty-year road plan (1961) was introduced to improve the conditions of roads in India. However, roads continue to concentrate in and around urban centres. Rural and remote areas had the least connectivity by road. 
  • For the purpose of construction and maintenance, roads are classified as National Highways (NH), State Highways (SH), Major District Roads and Rural Roads.
  • National Highways: The main roads which are constructed and maintained by the Central Government are known as the National Highways. These roads are meant for inter-state transport and movement of defence men and material in strategic areas. These also connect the state capitals, major cities, important ports, railway junctions, etc. The length of the National Highways has increased from 19,700 km in 1951 to 65,769 km in 2005. The National Highways constitute only two per cent of the total road length but carry 40 per cent of the road traffic. (Table 10.1) The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was operationalized in 1995. It is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Surface Transport. It is entrusted with the responsibility of development, maintenance and operation of National Highways. This is also the apex body to improve the quality of the roads designated as National Highways.
  • State Highways: These are constructed and maintained by state governments. They join the state capitals with district headquarters and other important towns. These roads are connected to the National Highways. These constitute 4 per cent of total road length in the country.
  • District Roads: These roads are the connecting link between District Headquarters and the other important nodes in the district. They account for 14 per cent of the total road length of the country.
  • Rural Roads: These roads are vital for providing links in the rural areas. About 80 per cent of the total road length in India are categorized as rural roads. 
  • Other Roads: Other roads include Border Roads and International Highways. 
    • The Border Road Organisation (BRO) was established in May 1960 for accelerating economic development and strengthening defence preparedness through rapid and coordinated improvement of strategically important roads along the northern and north-eastern boundary of the country. It is a premier multifaceted construction agency. It has constructed roads in high altitude mountainous terrain joining Chandigarh with Manali (Himachal Pradesh) and Leh (Ladakh). This road runs at an average altitude of 4,270 metres above the mean sea level. This organisation completed over 40,450 km of roads by March 2005. Apart from the construction and maintenance of roads in strategically sensitive areas, the BRO also undertakes snow clearance in high altitude areas. 
    • The international highways are meant to promote the harmonious relationship with the neighbouring countries by providing effective links with India. 

The distribution of roads is not uniform in the country. Density of roads (length of roads per 100 square km of area) varies from only 10.48 km in Jammu and Kashmir to 387.24 km in Kerala with a national average of 75.42 km. The density of roads is high in most of the northern states and major southern states. It is low in the Himalayan region, north-eastern region, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Nature of terrain and the level of economic development are the main determinants of density of roads. Construction of roads is easy and cheaper in the plain areas while it is difficult and costly in hilly and plateau areas. Therefore, not only the density but also the quality of roads is relatively better in plains as compared to roads in high altitude areas, rainy and forested regions.

10.1.2. Rail Transport

  • Indian railways network is one of the longest in the world. It facilitates the movement of both freight and passengers and contributes to the growth of the economy. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi said, the Indian railways “brought people of diverse cultures together to contribute to India’s freedom struggle.” 
  • Indian Railway was introduced in 1853, when a line was constructed from Bombay to Thane covering a distance of 34 km. Indian Railways is the largest government undertaking in the country. 
  • The length of Indian Railways network is 63,221 km. Its very large size puts lots of pressure on a centralized railway management system. Thus, in India, the railway system has been divided into sixteen zones. 
  • Indian Railways has launched an extensive programme to convert the metre and narrow gauges to broad gauge. Moreover, steam engines have been replaced by diesel and electric engines. This step has increased the speed as well as the haulage capacity. The replacement of steam engines run by coal has also improved the environment of the stations.
  • Metro rail has revolutionized the urban transport system in Kolkata and Delhi. replacement of diesel buses by CNG run vehicles along with introduction of metro is a welcome step towards controlling the air pollution in urban centres.
  • Areas around towns, raw material producing areas and of plantations and other commercial crops, hill stations and cantonment towns were well-connected by railways from the British colonial era. These were mostly developed for the exploitation of resources. 
  • After the Independence of the country, railway routes have been extended to other areas too. 
  • The most significant development has been the development of Konkan Railway along the western coast providing a direct link between Mumbai and Mangalore. Railway continues to remain the main means of transport for the masses. Railway network is relatively less dense in the hill states, northeastern states, central parts of India and Rajasthan.

10.1.3. Oil and Gas Pipelines

  • Pipelines are the most convenient and efficient mode of transporting liquids and gases over long distances. 
  • Even solids can also be transported by pipelines after converting them into slurry. 
  • Oil India Limited (OIL) under the administrative set up of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is engaged in the exploration, production and transportation of crude oil and natural gas. It was incorporated in 1959 as a company. 
  • Asia’s first cross country pipeline covering a distance of 1,157 km was constructed by OIL from Naharkatiya oilfield in Assam to Barauni refinery in Bihar. It was further extended up to Kanpur in 1966. 
  • Another extensive network of pipelines has been constructed in the western region of India of which Ankleshwar-Koyali, Mumbai HighKoyali and Hazira-Vijaipur-Jagdishpur (HVJ) are most important. 
  • Recently, a 1256 km long pipeline connecting Salaya (Gujarat) with Mathura (U.P.) has been constructed. 
  • It supplies crude oil from Gujarat to Punjab (Jalandhar) via Mathura. OIL is in the process of constructing a 660 km long pipeline from Numaligarh to Siliguri.

10.2. Water Transport

  • Waterways is an important mode of transport for both passenger and cargo traffic in India. It is the cheapest means of transport and is most suitable for carrying heavy and bulky material. It is a fuel-efficient and eco-friendly mode of transport. 
  • The water transport is of two types– 
    • inland waterways, and 
    • oceanic waterways.

Inland Waterways

  • It was the chief mode of transport before the advent of railways. It, however, faced tough competition from road and railway transport. Moreover, diversion of river water for irrigation purposes made them navigable in large parts of their courses. 
  • India has 14,500 km of navigable waterways, contributing about 1% to the country’s transportation. It comprises rivers, canals, backwaters, creeks, etc. 
  • At present, 3,700 km of major rivers are navigable by mechanised flat bottom vessels, out of which only 2,000 km are actually used. Similarly, out of 4,300 km of the network of navigable canal, only 900 km is navigable by mechanised vessels
  • For the development, maintenance and regulation of national waterways in the country, the Inland Waterways Authority was set up in 1986. The authority has declared three inland waterways as National Waterways. Inland Waterways Authority has also identified ten other inland waterways, which could be upgraded. 
  • The backwaters (Kadal) of Kerala has special significance in the Inland Waterway. Apart from providing cheap means of transport, they are also attracting large numbers of tourists in Kerala. 
  • The famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race (VALLAMKALI) is also held in the backwaters.

Oceanic Routes

  • India has a vast coastline of approximate 7,517 km, including islands. Twelve major and 185 minor ports provide infrastructural support to these routes. 
  • Oceanic routes play an important role in the transport sector of India’s economy. 
  • Approximately 95 per cent of India’s foreign trade by volume and 70 per cent by value moves through ocean routes. 
  • Apart from international trade, these are also used for the purpose of transportation between the islands and the rest of the country.

Some of the Indian ports 

  • Kandla Port situated at the head of Gulf of Kachchh has been developed as a major port to cater to the needs of western and north western parts of the country and also to reduce the pressure at Mumbai port. The port is specially designed to receive large quantities of petroleum and petroleum products and fertiliser. The offshore terminal at Vadinar has been developed to reduce the pressure at Kandla port. Demarcation of the boundary of the hinterland would be difficult as it is not fixed over space. In most of the cases, the hinterland of one port may overlap with that of the other.
  • Mumbai is a natural harbour and the biggest port of the country. The port is situated closer to the general routes from the countries of Middle East, Mediterranean countries, North Africa, North America and Europe where the major share of the country’s overseas trade is carried out. The port is 20 km long and 6-10 km wide with 54 berths and has the country’s largest oil terminal. M.P., Maharashtra, Gujarat, U.P. and parts of Rajasthan constitute the main hinterlands of Mumbai ports.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Nhava Sheva was developed as a satellite port to relieve the pressure at the Mumbai port. It is the largest container port in India.
  • Marmagao Port, situated at the entrance of the Zuari estuary, is a natural harbour in Goa. It gained significance after its remodeling in 1961 to handle iron-ore exports to Japan. Construction of Konkan railway has considerably extended the hinterland of this port. Karnataka, Goa, Southern Maharashtra constitute its hinterland.
  • New Mangalore Port is located in the state of Karnataka and caters to the needs of the export of iron-ore and iron-concentrates. It also handles fertilizers, petroleum products, edible oils, coffee, tea, wood pulp, yarn, granite stone, molasses, etc. Karnataka is the major hinterland for this port.
  • Kochchi Port, situated at the head of Vembanad Kayal, popularly known as the “Queen of the Arabian Sea,” is also a natural harbour. This port has an advantageous location being close to the Suez-Colombo route. It caters to the needs of Kerala, southern Karnataka and south western Tamil Nadu.
  • Kolkata Port is located on the Hugli river, 128 km inland from the Bay of Bengal. Like the Mumbai port, this port was also developed by the British. Kolkata had the initial advantage of being the capital of British India. The port has lost its significance considerably on account of the diversion of exports to the other ports such as Visakhapatnam, Paradip and its satellite port, Haldia. Kolkata port is also confronted with the problem of silt accumulation in the Hugli river which provides a link to the sea. Its hinterland covers U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and the north-eastern states. Apart from this, it also extends port facilities to our neighbouring land-locked countries such as Nepal and Bhutan.
  • Haldia Port is located 105 km downstream from Kolkata. It has been constructed to reduce the congestion at Kolkata port. It handles bulk cargo like iron ore, coal, petroleum, petroleum products and fertilizers, jute, jute products, cotton and cotton yarn, etc.
  • Paradip Port is situated in the Mahanadi delta, about 100 km from Cuttack. It has the deepest harbour especially suited to handle very large vessels. It has been developed mainly to handle large-scale export of iron-ore. Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are the parts of its hinterland.
  • Visakhapatnam Port in Andhra Pradesh is a land-locked harbour, connected to the sea by a channel cut through solid rock and sand. An outer harbour has been developed for handling iron-ore, petroleum and general cargo. Andhra Pradesh is the main hinterland for this port.
  • Chennai Port is one of the oldest ports on the eastern coast. It is an artificial harbour built in 1859. It is not suitable for large ships because of the shallow waters near the coast. Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry are its hinterland.
  • Ennore, a newly developed port in Tamil Nadu, has been constructed 25 km north of Chennai to relieve the pressure at Chennai port.
  • Tuticorin Port was also developed to relieve the pressure of Chennai port. It deals with a variety of cargo including coal, salt, food grains, edible oils, sugar, chemicals and petroleum products.

10.3. Air Transportation

  • Air transport is the fastest means of movement from one place to the other. It has reduced distances by minimizing the travel time. It is very essential for a vast country like India, where distances are large and the terrain and climatic conditions are diverse. 
  • Air transport in India made a beginning in 1911 when airmail operation commenced over a little distance of 10 km between Allahabad and Naini. But its real development took place in the post-Independence period. 
  • The Airport Authority of India is responsible for providing safe, efficient air traffic and aeronautical communication services in the Indian Air Space. 
  • The authority manages 126 airports including 11 international, 86 domestic and 29 civil enclaves at defence airfields. 
  • The air transport in India is managed by two corporations, Air India and Indian Airlines after nationalization. How many private companies have also started passenger services?
  • At present, there are 12 international airports and 112 domestic airports functioning in the country. They are– Ahmedabad,
  • Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kochchi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram. You have already studied about air transport in the previous chapter. You consult the chapter on transport to find out the main features of air transport in India.

Air India

  • Air India provides International Air Services for both passengers and cargo traffic. It connects all the continents of the world through its services. In 2005, it carried 12.2 million passengers and 4.8 lakh metric tonnes of cargo. About 52 per cent of the total air traffic was handled only at Mumbai and Delhi airports.
  • In 2005, domestic movement involved 24.3 million passengers and 20 lakh metric tonnes of cargo.
  • Pawan Hans is the helicopter service operating in hilly areas and is widely used by tourists in north-eastern sector. In addition, Pawan Hans Limited mainly provides helicopter services to the petroleum sector and for tourism.

10.4. Communication Networks

  • Human beings have evolved different methods of communication over time. In earlier times, the messages were delivered by beating the drum or hollow tree trunks, giving indications through smoke or fire or with the help of fast runners. Horses, camels, dogs, birds and other animals were also used to send messages. 
  • Initially, the means of communication were also the means of transportation. Invention of post office, telegraph, printing press, telephone, satellite, etc. has made the communication much faster and easier. 
  • Development in the field of science and technology has significantly contributed in bringing about revolution in the field of communication. People use different modes of communication to convey the messages. 
  • On the basis of scale and quality, the mode of communication can be divided into following categories:
    • Personal Communication System
    • Mass Communication System

10.4.1. Personal Communication System

  • Among all the personal communication systems, the internet is the most effective and advanced one. It is widely used in urban areas. It enables the user to establish direct contact through email to get access to the world of knowledge and information.  
  • It is increasingly used for e-commerce and carrying out money transactions. The internet is like a huge central warehouse of data, with detailed information on various items. 
  • The network through internet and e-mail provides an efficient access to information at a comparatively low cost. 
  • It enables us with the basic facilities of direct communication. You might have noticed the proliferation of cyber cafes in urban areas.

10.4.2. Mass Communication System


  • Radio broadcasting started in India in 1923 by the Radio Club of Bombay. Since then, it gained immense popularity and changed the sociocultural life of people. Within no time, it made a place in every household of the country. Government took this opportunity and brought this popular mode of communication under its control in 1930 under the Indian Broadcasting System. 
  • It was changed to All India Radio in 1936 and to Akashwani in 1957. All India Radio broadcasts a variety of programmes related to information, education and entertainment. Special news bulletins are also broadcast at specific occasions like sessions of parliament and state legislatures.

Television (T.V.)

  • Television broadcasting has emerged as the most effective audio-visual medium for disseminating information and educating masses. Initially, the T.V. services were limited only to the National Capital where it began in 1959. 
  • After 1972, several other centres became operational. In 1976, TV was delinked from All India Radio (AIR) and got a separate identity as Doordarshan (DD). 
  • After INSAT-IA (National Television-DD1) became operational, Common National Programmes (CNP) were started for the entire network and its services were extended to the backward and remote rural areas.

Satellite Communication

  • Satellites are a mode of communication in themselves as well as they regulate the use of other means of communication. However, use of satellites in getting a continuous and synoptic view of a larger area has made satellite communication very vital for the country due to the economic and strategic reasons. 
  • Satellite images can be used for the weather forecast, monitoring of natural calamities, surveillance of border areas, etc. 
  • On the basis of configuration and purposes, satellite systems in India can be grouped into two: 
    • Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) and 
    • Indian Remote Sensing Satellite System (IRS). 
  • The INSAT, which was established in 1983, is a multipurpose satellite system for telecommunication, meteorological observation and for various other data and programmes. 
  • The IRS satellite system became operational with the launching of IRS-IA in March 1988 from Vaikanour in Russia. India has also developed her own Launching Vehicle PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). These satellites collect data in several spectral bands and transmit them to the ground stations for various uses. 
  • The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) at Hyderabad provides facilities for acquisition of data and its processing. These are very useful in the management of natural resources.


  1. Contemporary India-II by NCERT
  2. India: People and the Economy by NCERT
  3. India Year Book
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