ON THE ROAD TO PROSPERITY
The Modi government has set a blistering pace of work in transport infrastructure, from roads to railways
AT A PUBLIC FUNCTION in Mumbai last September, road transport minister Nitin Gadkari cracked up the audience. “Our slogan achhe din (good days),” he told them, “has become a galey ki haddi (a bone stuck in the throat) for us.” Gadkari, who heads the ministries of road transport, highways, shipping and ports hinted at the burden of expectations on his government. This year, his ministry fell short of its ambitious target of building 41 km of roads every day. But even the 22 km per day they built was twice the speed of road construction under UPAII.
Indeed, NDAII has set a blistering pace of work in transport infrastructure. Highways are being laid much faster than they were three years ago, construction contracts are being awarded speedily, public sector ports are outperforming their private sector counterparts; and even the historically indolent Indian Railways with investments in broad gauge lines, track electrification and manufacturing of rolling stock is on the cusp of a revolution.
201617 saw the railways take on their highest ever freight load, 1,100 million tonnes, an 80 per cent increase in nonfare revenue—Rs 10,100 crore. The ministry has, in the past two years, handed out contracts worth over Rs 35,000 crore for constructing over 3,000 km of tracks for its gamechanging Dedicated Freight Corridors.
New airports coming up in Navi Mumbai and Noida will ease the burden on Mumbai and Delhi airports and are part of 18 greenfield airports which have been given inprinciple clearances by the government.
The domestic aviation sector is also taking off with a regional connectivity scheme titled ‘Udan’. Under it, 33 unused airports are being reactivated, offering air connectivity and economic prosperity to the hinterland even though its model of subsidised air tickets reeks of the same statesponsored socialism that landed Air India in the multibillion rupee mess it is in. The government has revitalised the dormant inland waterways sector with a project to develop a 1,380 km fairway linking Varanasi to Haldia for Rs 5,369 crore. Yet these multiple sectors may no longer work in silos, with Gadkari, railway minister Suresh Prabhu and civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju showing up at the government’s first integrated transport and logistics summit in New Delhi in May.
This is also the vision of the Sagarmala project that aims to seamlessly link road, rail and seaports. The Sagarmala project’s vision for portled economy will save Rs 40,000 crore annually in cost of logistics. Multimodal transport hubs in cities like Varanasi and Haldia will see a convergence of railways, highways and waterways.
Where is all this headed? With GST becoming a reality, integrated logistics will be a gamechanger. As industry watchers say, it was easier to haul a truck from Italy to France than to ply it between Delhi and Gurugram. The project will bring efficiencies of scale and bump up GDP.