In 1998 estimates made by the World Bank attributed to the India a GDP per capita of 430 dollars, a value that keeps the country among the least developed on the whole Earth. However, the same sources – adopting a different calculation methodology, considered by some to be more reliable: purchasing power parity, the so-called PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) – attributed a value to GDP per resident approximately four times the previous one, which would mean that the Indian productive potential is worth sixth place in the world. In any case, at present the India continues to be a substantially backward country, although during the last thirty years of the 20 century° the economy has developed at a rather high rate, which averaged just under 6 % per year. More than 50 % of the population, according to the parameters established by the World Bank (30 ÷ 35%, according to other assessments), would live below the poverty line. Territorial imbalances, which have always been very pronounced, have worsened with the passage of time: there are relatively prosperous federated states, such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Hariyana and Panjab, and other backward and poor, such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and many of those of the eastern and north-eastern regions. The contribution of the primary and secondary sectors – with the exception of some sectors – suffers from low productivity, is weighed down by exuberant employment and struggles to assimilate new technologies. The Indian economy is strongly influenced by the rapid pace of population growth and the consequent demographic pressure which particularly persists in the rural environment and weighs on agricultural resources.
According to smber, even today agriculture – a largely subsistence agriculture – employs about two thirds of the total workforce, but, using traditional techniques and antiquated and inefficient tools and being strongly conditioned by the weather, it is scarcely profitable and contributes only a little more than a quarter to the formation of GDP. Even within the agricultural sector there are marked regional disparities: if more than half of the country’s surface is in some way arable, only a third of the territory has water in satisfactory quantities; for the rest, agricultural production and the food self-sufficiency of the population continue to be subordinated to the regularity of the monsoon winds. The most widespread crops are those of cereals, of which both the quantities produced and the yields increased (the greatest increases concern wheat and maize, while the production of rice remained almost constant). In addition, significant increases in productivity have also been recorded in industrial crops, especially for sugar cane and cotton.
India possesses large mineral riches, not yet fully explored. Underground reserves of iron minerals are among the largest in the world: it is estimated that they exceed 22 billion tons. The greatest concentration of them is located in the north-eastern Deccan, in a region that extends between Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal; other large deposits are found in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa. The country also has large quantities of coal (reserves amount to about 83 billion tons); the use of this energy source is however limited by the modest quality; much smaller are the coking coal reserves, estimated at around 2.5 billions of t and mostly located in the same regions of iron ore extraction (northeastern Deccan).
Large quantities of manganese and mica are then extracted from the subsoil, as well as copper, lead, zinc, etc. The presence of oil and natural gas was also detected in off-shore fields ; the actual number of reservations is still in the process of assessment: the estimates published to date are conflicting and official estimates indicate in the 1, 5 billion tons. The largest deposits on the mainland are those found in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (reserves of approximately 200 million tons have been estimated in the Caulery basin alone). Offshore fields they are located on the continental shelf overlooking the coasts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, as well as in the Bay of Bengal. The exploration is conducted, under a concession regime, by multinational companies, mainly from the United States. It has been estimated that, within a few years, about 70 % of Indian demand for petroleum products will be met by domestic resources, a percentage that is set to increase (it was less than half in the early 1980s).
The secondary sector is totally inadequate to the size of the country and the resources available, also because it is not stimulated by demand, which remains modest due to the poor purchasing power of the population. It is largely an informal sector – spread almost everywhere and aimed exclusively at local demand – which uses elementary technologies and artisanal production processes; it is widely believed that this ‘hidden’ sector is destined to grow. Alongside these traditional companies, however, there are other medium and high technology companies (especially in the mechanical and armaments sectors), concentrated in some regions, which are able to produce goods for export, sometimes even very sophisticated and usually manufactured only in economically developed countries. The reasons for this dualism are different: among them we must remember the structure of the education system, which while on the one hand is not able to ensure primary education for all (with the consequence that even today there are large strata of illiterate young people), on the other hand, it has well-organized universities that guarantee the training of a small but efficient class of technicians and administrators. The basic activities (steel industry, cement manufacturing, etc.) are widespread and developed overall, but require a profound technological renewal.
Infrastructure and privatization have become the two keywords of the executive’s new economic-territorial policy guidelines. In particular, the expansion of energy production, the construction of new roads, ports and a telecommunications network is envisaged.
Transportation is relatively efficient. The railway network is very extensive and is undergoing progressive electrification. The development of the road network is much smaller: although the construction of a motorway system has been planned for some time, which should interconnect the main urban areas of the country, the pre-eminent function continues to be of a local nature; motorization is still scarce and commercial traffic is limited to supplying small and large urban markets with agricultural products from more or less remote countryside. Port traffic is very important, especially oil traffic; the most important ports, as well as Bombay (with over 33.7 million tons of total movement in 1996-97), are Madras, Vishakhapatnam (Vizag), Kandla and Calcutta, which have an annual movement of goods exceeding 20 million tons, mostly consisting of petroleum products; Madras and Calcutta, with a movement of 100 respectively. 000 and 40. 000 passengers, they are also important passenger ports. Air traffic is very developed, given the size of the country: Civil Aviation annually transports approximately 18 ÷ 20 billion passenger / km.