Road is the indigenous mode of transport in India. It is through roads that every village and hamlet can be reached. Roads offer door to do service and their construction can be undertake even in the areas of difficult terrain.
The movement of goods is safer through road transport. It helps the farmers to move their perishable agricultural products soon to markets and mantis. In a developing country like India road is a harbinger of economic development and prosperity.
India has one of the largest road networks in the world. The country’s total road length was
33.20 lakh km in 2004 (surfaced roads being 15.17 km or 45.7 per cent of the total). India has a long tradition of building roads since ancient times. In the ruins of Indus Valley Civilisation there is evidence of paved roads. Chandra Gupta Maurya and Ashoka were the great road builders. Sher Shah and Mughal emperors took active interest in road construction.
With the consolidation of British power greater attention was paid on the road construction so as to promote goods movement and maintain law and order. The Grand Trunk Road (following the old Mughal Road) from Dacca (in Bangladesh) to Lahore (in Pakistan) was the most important road connecting almost all the premier cities of the north India. Similarly the Deccan Road provided a direct link to the South India from the north.
.In 1951 India had a total length of 4.00,004 km of roads (surfaced roads being 1, 57,000 km). This length increased to 5, 24,000 km (surfaced roads 263,000 km) in 1960-61; 10, 22,000 km (surfaced roads 423,000 km), in 1971-72; and 14, 91,000 km (surfaced roads 6, 84,000 km), in 1980-81. In 1991 the total road-length increased to 23, 27,362 km of which 10, 90, 167 km was surfaced and 12, 37,195 km unsurfaced roads. As on 31st March, 1999 the total road length was 25, 25,989 km of which 14, 48,629 km were surfaced (57.35 per cent) roads.
Maharashtra alone has 15.11 per cent of the total length of roads in the country, followed by Uttar Pradesh (11.27%), Orissa (10.39%), Madhya Pradesh (8.07%), Andhra Pradesh (7.10%), Tamil Nadu (6.06%), Karnataka (6.01 %), Kerala (5.87%), Rajasthan (5.58%), and Gujarat (3.69%).
These ten states together had 79.15 per cent of the total road- length of the country. Maharashtra also has the largest length of surfaced roads in India (19.95% of the country in 1999), followed by Uttar Pradesh (11.3%), Tamil Nadu (8.11%), Andhra Pradesh (7.60%), Karnataka (7.11%), Madhya Pradesh (6.36%), Rajasthan (6.17%), Orissa(6.10%), Gujarat (5.73%), and Punjab (3.63%).
These ten states together have over 82 per cent of the surfaced roads of the country. On the other hand Sikkim, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Goa share only 2.54 per cent of the total surfaced roads of India; the share of individual state being less than 0.42 per cent of the country.
A better measure is to analyse the road-length on the basis of area and population of the individual state. Table 25.1 gives state wise length of total roads per 100 square km of area and per lakh of population. According to this table only 12 states i.e., Kerala, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Orissa, Maharashtra, Punjab, Nagaland, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka record higher road-length than the national average (76.84 km.).
Except Tripura, Assam, Nagaland, U.P. and Punjab all these are coastal states where road development has been given high priority. On the contrary, hilly states like Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram and Meghalaya; plateau state of Madhya Pradesh; semi-arid states of Rajasthan and Gujarat; and island territory of Andaman and Nicobar record less than 50 km of roads per 100 square kilometers of their area. Remaining states have moderate road-length (50-100 km) in respect of their area.
In respect of per lakh of their population the sparsely populated states like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Orissa, Goa, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura and Kerala record more than 400 km of road-length. Densely populated states like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Union territories of Delhi and Daman & Diu lie on the other side of the scale with less than 200 km of road-length per lakh of their population. Remaining states and union territories of the country have road-length between 200-400 km per lakh of their population.