By Nitin Gadkari

The most tangible evidence of a nation’s progress is its infrastructure and that’s essentially what India lacked, which eventually hampered our growth rate and made us uncompetitive in terms of logistics cost.

Infrastructure sector is a key driver of the Indian economy. We have already seen how highways turned around the US economy and how port and shipping sector gave a much-needed impetus to China. Unfortunately, none of these could be replicated in India in the post-Independence period.

 Barring the tenure of NDA I, roads, highways, shipping, water resources and river development never got importance in the government’s scheme of things. When the Narendra Modi government took over in 2014, the government had its priority cut out. Highwayto-growth and port-led development became missions. The government’s mission of ease of doing business has now been expanded to ease of living, as announced in the recent Union budget. Infrastructure is key to both.

There has been an unprecedented three-fold hike in infrastructure lending since 2014. For the next financial year, the estimated budgetary and extra-budgetary expenditure on infrastructure has been increased to Rs 5.97 lakh crore.

India will require investments of over $4.5 trillion by 2040 for the development of its infrastructure, according to the Economic Survey 2017-18. Infrastructure sector includes power, bridges, dams, roads and urban infrastructure development. Realising the synergy required, we have formed a group of infrastructure ministries that meet frequently to figure out solutions to problems and smoothen the process.

This year we will be constructing a little less than 10,000 km of national highways that will be the highest ever India has ever constructed and almost double of what was constructed in a year during UPA days.

The government’s ambitious highway development plan has the potential to add 3% to the GDP and provide 10 million jobs.

Overall, we plan to build almost 60,000 km under Bharatmala. In phase one, we will build 34,800 km at the cost of Rs 5.35 lakh crore. The remaining 25,200 km would be taken up in phase two. We will complete phase one by 2022 and the awarding of projects should be done before 2019.

The work on expressways and economic corridors would be taken up first on priority basis. We will have around 50 economic corridors with a total length of 9,000 km where the majority of freight traffic would move.

Water Reforms
The finite water resources of our country are under pressure due to increasing population, urbanisation, industrialisation, water pollution and overuse. Sustainable use of water resources is the need of the hour. To strike a balance between water use and development, India has embarked on a water reform journey with a focus on policy reforms, water governance and swift execution. River development in general and Ganga rejuvenation in particular have found new strength under this regime. In a bid to enhance agricultural productivity by covering more area under irrigation and strengthening distribution networks in an integrated manner followed by its effective monitoring, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was launched in 2015 at an estimated cost of Rs 77,595 crore. PMKSY is a core scheme of the National Development Agenda and one of the flagship projects of Prime Minister Modi.

The herculean task of Ganga rejuvenation found a new vigour in 2014 with the launch of Namami Gange programme. A budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore was approved by the cabinet. For the first time, clean Ganga mission became a 100% centrally funded scheme.

Transport Tech of Future
At the rate at which vehicular traffic is growing in India, we will need another Rs 1 lakh crore in the next few years to add additional lanes to our national highways. The need of the moment is to promote public transport and not just build roads.

We have already brought out tenders for personalised rapid transit system between Dhaula Kuan in Delhi and Manesar in Haryana. This stretch is among the most congested routes in the country. It’s a pilot project but we are open to having new transport technologies such as Metrino, hyperloop and maglev (magnetic levitation). Along with this we want to bring in world-class bus services run on clean fuel.

The focus of this government is not just development but sustainable development. We want to bring in electric mobility and alternate fuel in full force in another decade. Companies are being encouraged to introduce such vehicles and the government is incentivising companies and buyers. As both will find alternate fuel more economical, the segment would grow on its own.

Modern Trade Hubs
Indian shipping industry plays a crucial role in the economy as nearly 90% of trade by volume is done through sea. Indian shipping is poised to acquire new dimensions in terms of infrastructure development and operational efficiency.

Significant steps have been taken in the areas of infrastructure development, capacity expansion, work efficiency and technology induction. 289 projects of `2.17 lakh crore have been awarded under Sagarmala. There is an accentuated thrust on the setting up of SEZs and Coastal Economic Zones around major ports. SEZ at JNPT and Smart Industrial Port Cities at Kandla and Paradip are already under implementation.

As land for national and state highways becomes scarce and the cost of constructing roads, flyovers and bridges goes up, inland water transport assumes great significance. We are exploring the use of rivers for the transport of cargo and people. A countrywide blueprint has been made for national waterways, multimodal terminals and freight villages and logistics hubs centred on water transport.

We are also exploring coastal shipping and cruise tourism. The movement of cargo through coastal shipping has inherent advantages over road and rail as it is more cost-effective, causes less pollution, reduces congestion on land and can cater to huge parcel sizes.

A multi-pronged action plan has been proposed to turn India into a major destination in cruise tourism.

(The author is the Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways, Shipping & Water Resources)

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