Indian development and tradeoffs from roads and cars

The Difference Between India’s Stories and Statistics

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 7, 2014    •    1082 Views

There is a village in Southern India called Kadapakkam. It had been a home to farmers and fishermen whose thatched huts had no running water and no electrical appliances. At traditional tea shops located at the side of the local, narrow and potholed road, you could meet a friend. One 62 year-old postman spoke of getting married at home. He had no music, no photographer, and they ate sitting on the ground. As for a dowry, you paid what you could afford.

Where are we going? To the impact that a new 435 mile highway (700 kilometers) had on Kadapakkam’s development.

Business boomed. As a place to stop along the new East Coast Road that stretched across the entire state of Tamil Nadu, Kadapakkam found itself with new air conditioned coffee shops and commercial establishments that sold Armani, Adidas and pizza. Agricultural acreage diminished as land became more valuable. Concrete homes were built with washing machines, refrigerators and televisions. Cell phone towers multiplied. One photographer explained that new marriage halls along the road vastly expanded his business as did the accessibility of distant places. One tea shop owned by the same family for 58 years had more customers than ever before.

Quickly though, the village culture changed. The 62-year old postman said he was no longer respected. People were becoming more “money-minded.” You could pay 50 rupees for a cup of tea at a coffee shop or 8 rupees at a traditional tea shop. Tension had intensified. There was more noise and pollution. One man said, “Old is gold, and you should never forget the past.”

The graph below shows the increase in car ownership in India.

Emerging Markets India Development and Cars

From: Quartz While the increase in rural car ownership in places like  Kadapakkan looks relatively small, the proportional increase is much greater than for urban areas.


The number of households with motorcycles and other 2-wheelers has also soared:

Indian development, cars and two-wheeled vehicles

From: Quartz

Our bottom line: Kadapakkam is an Indian development story. Told through statistics, development involves more cars, more appliances, healthier diets. A story of one village, though, conveys the economic, cultural and environmental tradeoffs.


Sources and more...A perfect complement to development statistics in Quartz, the story of Kadapakkam was in the October 14, 2013 issue of the New Yorker (gated) and the Times of India told about recent auto sales. For sub-Saharan African, econlife told a very different development story. Please note that this post was slightly edited after it appeared.

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