Infrastructure sector boost to help India become a $ 5 trillion economy
The keystone of governance is to create economic growth and spread the benefits of growth to all. A better quality of life and “ease of living” results from policies that aim to create the right conditions for new economic opportunities. Higher economic growth leads to more funds being available for social development, finally taking us to a virtuous cycle of growth and development. The US $ 5 Trillion target for our GDP is an ambitious one, and strategy to achieve the same revolves around creating an eco-system for growth, with its foundations on creation of infrastructure, and Atma Nirbhar Bharat. As we celebrate 75 years of independence, Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, we have embarked on an ambitious development journey.
Infrastructure development has been at the core of the Government’s efforts since 2014 to fuel economic growth. The focus has not only been on physical infrastructure but also digital infrastructure. The digital infrastructure created through the UPI initiative has been a singular success.
The creation of physical infrastructure is equally important with its multiplier effect on economic growth. The Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is pushing for investment in infrastructure.
Considering the massive investment required to build infrastructure, it was decided to lay down a clear roadmap of all infra development projects that were to be taken up. And the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) came into being, with projects requiring investment of Rs 111 lakh crore. The NIP coupled with the recently launched Gatishakti program will ensure complete approach and timely delivery based on better coordination and planning.
Developing infrastructure in a diverse country like ours requires detailed planning and facilitation. The Bharatmala Program gave us the blueprint for highway development in an integrated manner. The program envisaged the construction of 34,800 km of National Highways. The program follows a corridor-based National Highway development, connecting 550+ districts of the country and catering to 70-80% of total freight on National Highways.
Brownfield expansion and improvement of highways serves an important purpose, but the game changer in terms of reducing logistic costs is building access controlled greenfield expressways connecting key cargo origin-destination centres. Consequently, 5 flagship expressways and 17 access-controlled corridors are being developed as part of Bharatmala Phase 1 at a total capital cost of Rs 3.6 lakh crore.
It is now time for us to launch Phase 2 of Bharatmala program, and we have high levels of ambition considering the expectations of people across the country. The pace of award of works for National Highways has almost doubled from average of 5,900 km per annum between FY2009-10 till FY2013-14 to 11,000 km per annum since FY2014-15. Similarly, the pace of annual construction has increased by 1.8 times to 9,000 km per annum since FY2014-15, as compared to 4,900 km constructed per annum between FY2009-10 till FY2013-14.
Logistic costs must be reduced, and this happens to some extent by developing highways but that itself is not sufficient to maximise returns from the investment in highways. Multimodal Logistics Parks (MMLPs) are critical enablers for ensuring integrated and efficient transportation as per the vision laid out in the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan. MMLPs are being developed across the country in 35 strategic locations (such as Jogighopa, Nagpur, Chennai, Indore, Bengaluru etc.) to address inefficiencies in the logistics sector. These 35 MMLPs will cater to over 50% of the Nation’s road freight movement.
Development of highways in left-wing extremism impacted districts has also received special attention since 2014. For instance, a Greenfield corridor between Raipur and Visakhapatnam is being developed passing through backward districts of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
At 14.96 km, the Zojila tunnel on the Srinagar-Leh road will shorten the distance between Baltal (Sonamarg) and Minamarg in Ladakh from 40 km to 13 km, slashing travel time from three hours to 15 minutes.
The scale of infrastructure development requires investments at a mammoth scale. As part of National Monetisation Pipeline, NHAI has launched its InvIT to monetise road projects. In view of the long-term nature of the assets, the units of InvIT were placed with international and domestic institutional investors. The initial portfolio comprising of 5 roads raised Rs 8,000 crore with 50% of investment fromforeign investors.
Lastly and most importantly, protecting the environment while developing infrastructure is a fine balancing act. My approach is to lean towards protecting the environment while faced with situations. Progress in plantation of trees along highways is personally reviewed by me.
MoRTH realized the need and importance of developing green corridor and promulgated Green Highways (Plantations, Transplantations, Beautification and Maintenance) Policy in September 2015 to develop green corridors along National Highways for sustainable environment growth. In post policy years from 2016-17 to 2020-21, more than 2 crore plants have been planted.
In 2021-2022, till November, a cumulative 63 lakh+ new plants have been planted by NHAI with avenue plantation accounting for 27.5 lakh, while median plantation accounting for 35.6 lakh new plants. Further, plantation is closely monitored using latest technology of drone videography and geo tagging, along with the traditional methods of field inspections.
In the process we created few World Recordswith rate of Highway Construction being one of the highest in the world at 37 kms per day among several others.
Gadkari is Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways