A Flying Start
Politicians like to promise action, not words. Although words matter, action is what speaks louder. A politician who acts on his words, delivers results and makes life easier for people is one who will win the hearts of the people who voted and did not vote for him.
In May 2014, when the BJP government came to power with an absolute majority, after a blistering campaign, it was on the promise of reforms that were hitherto unheard of in India. In more ways than one, the government has acted and, while much remains to be sorted out, the people are hopeful that the acche din promises might just pan out.
India has several woes to its debit. While most of these might continue to afflict the people, it is the infrastructure bottleneck that sets the young populace’s teeth on edge. And if things go according to plan, even this might be history in a few years time. But it is time that is of the critical factor to first iron out the disorder that has been created over the past few decades.
One man in the government who has taken up this challenge effectively is the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways and Shipping, Nitin Gadkari. In two separate exclusive interviews to Construction Week, Gadkari has highlighted his government’s agenda and some of the steps he has taken to bring a new kind of order to create infrastructure for the country. It is a matter of pride to the Union Minister that his government has preferred to allot the highest priority to infrastructure development.
Leaping by miles
In an exclusive to Construction Week last month, Gadkari said that since coming to power, road construction has increased to 22km/day from 2km/day. “I would like to assure you that this will soon go up to 30km/day. The Ministry has set itself a target of 40km/day, but we might fall short of that this year,” he added. But he promises to strive for that in 2018. A larger portion of the work done has come from the Ministry, which executes projects through the state Public Works Department. Works undertaken by the NHAI involves four-laning and six-laning, which requires more fund, land and resources; most of the projects executed by the ministry are confined to widen highway stretches to only two and half lanes.
There are several impediments that come in the way of progress. Recently, the Ministry told Parliament that the slow speed of construction of NHs are mainly due to land acquisition, utilities shifting, non-availability of soil/aggregates, poor performance of contractors, environment/forest/wildlife clearance, rail-over-bridge and rail-under-bridge issue with railways, public agitation for additional facilities, arbitration/contractual disputes with contractors, etc. However, from what Construction Week understands, the Ministry is tirelessly working to iron out these problems so that it can go ahead with its plans to develop the much promised and much awaited infrastructure development.
According to reports, last fiscal alone, the government awarded 16,036km of road construction, including 4,335km by the NHAI. Seventy-eight works in a length of 4,344km amounting to about Rs 51,737 crore and 76 works in a length of 4,335km amounting to about Rs 70,000 crore was awarded in 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively. A total of Rs 1.2 lakh crore was spent on development of national highways last three fiscals. While a majority of the highways were awarded under the PPP mode, NHAI also roped in private companies such as Dilip Buildcon, Ashoka Buildcon, Larsen & Toubro, IRB Infrastructure, HCC, IL&FS Engineering, IRCON International, among others.
Since taking over as the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways and Shipping, Gadkari has undertaken a major overhaul of projects. According to him, since the last couple of years, the contractors were battling hurdles as their accounts under the NPA had resulted in 403 stalled projects. “We have managed to resolve the problems for about 95 projects and work on those projects has begun. It is such moves that has enabled us to allot projects worth Rs 5.5 lakh crore in the roads, shipping and ports sectors till March 31, 2017. Our initiatives will also help the growth of the cement and steel industry too,” he added.
Interestingly, the Ministry has preferred to build roads made of cement and concrete. Gadkari says with a swagger, “The design and quality of the roads are highly superior and I would like to assure you that it can withstand any weather and traffic and will not have potholes for the next few decades. Not just this, there will be little reason to spend on maintenance.”
In another move, the Ministry has strong intentions to complete infrastructure work worth Rs 25 lakh crore in five years. This is in sync with the plans to increase the length of national highways from the existing 96,000 km to 2 lakh kilometre. The only way that Gadkari says this can be achieved is to continually employ fast-track decision making process, ensure transparency and bring in a corruption-free system, which, he adds, is his department’s expertise. Interestingly, the Ministry is mindful that new kinds of measures must be taken to reduce the cost of construction and improve quality. He avers that it is constant exhortation on his part to the various contractors to find out novel methods to achieve this. Through Construction Week, he wants the message to go out loud and clear to the citizens that his Ministry has accepted the challenge of changing the image of the country and that if the people cooperate, then the mission can be successful.
The entire idea of infrastructure development hinges on attracting foreign investment into the country, which in turn will create scope for manufacturing and services, while generating employment. A key progress element of any nation is its ability to generate employment for its people. In most speeches and interviews that Gadkari has delivered over the last two years, employment generation has been a key factor. He tells Construction Week: “The country is making rapid progress. However, further progress can only happen when we increase exports. What has hindered growth of exports is the high cost of logistics. Employment generation can happen with a growth in manufacturing and this in turn requires reducing logistics cost and increasing export. Unless manufacturing progresses, the employment potential will remain stagnant.”
He is hoping that if the Ministry can build logistics parks on 36 ring-roads and express highways, it will definitely help reduce pollution, increase cost-effectiveness, and also encourage deployment of indigenous technology.
Gadkari and his team believe that by the time his government has completed their tenure of five years, their department will have provided employment to five crore youth through development of ports, national highways, and inland waterways.
At a time when most developed nations heavily depend on inland water transport, India is yet to develop a cheaper and greener mode of transportation. India has around 7,500km long coastline, but the country transports only 6% of its cargo through the waterways compared with around 55% on roadways and 35% by the railways. As a result, India’s logistics costs as percentage of its GDP is as high as 19% compared with 12.5% in China.
The World Bank report on Developing India’s First Modern Inland Waterway says that it is only recently that the government has realised the need to revive the Ganga watercourse – known as National Waterway 1 or NW1- to ferry cargo from the eastern seaport of Haldia to Varanasi, some 1,360 km inland. The waterway has the potential to emerge as the leading logistics artery for northern India. The World Bank is financing the development of the Ganga waterway with a loan of $375 million. The Capacity Augmentation of National Waterway 1 Project will help put in place the infrastructure and services needed to ensure that NW1 emerges as an efficient transport artery in this important economic region.
In his bid to reduce logistics cost, Gadkari has seriously taken up the project to develop India’s inland waterway. He says, “There is a constant effort to increase efficiency, and we have given approval and started work for developing ports of more than Rs 1 lakh crore. Last year the ports and inland waterways – all 12 major ports — which includes Shipping Corporation of India, Dredging Corporation of India and Cochin Shipyard — collectively made a profit at Rs 6,000 crore and we hope to touch Rs 7,000 crore this fiscal.”
This is the plan. Along with rail, road, and inland waterways, there is also an integrated approach to develop a multimodal transport hub and multimodal logistics hub. Then there’s the prestigious Sagarmala Project that is aimed at promoting port-led development and will fetch nearly Rs 12-15 lakh crore capital investments, generate direct and indirect employment for around two crore people and provide a huge fillip to the country’s economic growth. The Ministry is spending close to Rs 4 lakh crore into port-led connectivity. The minister said projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore under the Sagarmala programme are already under various stages of implementation and by the completion of the present dispensation’s current tenure in 2019, projects worth Rs 5 lakh crore are expected to commence.
This is not all. Gadkari told Construction Week that the ministry has started work to convert 111 rivers into inland waterways. “We have begun work worth Rs 3,000 crore and by December 2017, we will start creating inland waterways across 10 rivers. We have asked for help from international consultants in building inland waterways,” he added.
Some people are authorised to change the state of the world itself through speech. But Gadkari has proved that he can transform speech into act.