The Modi Years – Building Robust Infrastructure (Part 1)

Infrastructure is the ground on which the wheels of progress runs. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once famously said describing significance of infrastructure – “American roads are not good because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good”

The entire nation’s economy relies on robust infrastructure for its development. Report of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, 1997 defines infrastructure as “The framework of interdependent networks and systems comprising identifiable industries, institutions (including people and procedures), and distribution capabilities that provide a reliable flow of products and services essential to the defence and economic security, the smooth functioning of governments at all levels, and society as a whole.”

Concrete, steel, fiber-optic cable, technologies, manpower and investments are the essential building blocks of the economy. Infrastructure capacitate trade, powers businesses, connects workers to their jobs, creates opportunities for struggling communities, spearheads the economic growth and protects the nation from an increasingly capricious natural environment.

“From private investment in telecommunication systems, broadband networks, freight railroads, energy projects and pipelines, to publicly spending on transportation, water, buildings and parks, infrastructure is the backbone of a healthy economy” cites a Brookings column.

The economy needs reliable infrastructure to connect demand and supply chains and efficiently move goods and services across the land including exports-imports. Infrastructure connects households across metropolitan, urban and underdeveloped rural areas to higher quality opportunities for employment, healthcare and education eventually carrying forward the cause of development.

Robust infrastructure has always been an Achilles heel of the Bharatiya economy. Incompetent road, rail, waterways and power supply system has dented and dragged the ambitions of development. Bharatiya government never crafted any plan to build nation wide durable and modern infrastructure. But this government took the need to enhance infrastructure arduously.

This government carried forward the legacy of previous NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘Shining Bharat’. “The Narendra Modi government has set in play a new integrated infrastructure programme, which involves building of roads, railways, waterways and airports.” cites a livemint column.

Here we will see how has this government performed in improving country’s roadways infrastructure.

Roadways

Roads are perhaps the most important mode of transport in growing economies and act as a strong trade route and supply chain. Bharat has the one of largest road network across the world, spanning over a total of 5.5 million km. This road network transports 64.5 percent of all goods in the country and 90 percent of Bharat’s total passenger traffic uses road network to commute.

Road transportation has gradually increased over the years with the improvement in connectivity between cities, towns and villages in the country. The Bharatiya roads carry almost 90 percent of the country’s passenger traffic.

The need for world-class, robust and sustainable blueprint of enhancing road networks in Bharat is increasing as country’s economy grows. Modi led NDA government has bought in a new approach towards infrastructure development. As a column cites, “With several large conglomerates and infrastructure companies weighed down by debt, the onus of creating infrastructure was on the centre” and centre with enhanced funding system, delivered on the front.

The road construction target of 45 km per day was set for the previous financial year, from 27 km achieved per day in 2017-18. The average rate of highway construction was also raised from 14 km per day, with the pace of land acquisition improving. In the precursory times, the highways sector was reeling under stress, lack of funding and investment and absence of robust modern model.

This government has revived the highway sector by taking a raft of measures like  terminating projects, de-risking them and introducing the hybrid annuity model (HAM), wherein the government provides 40% of the project cost to the developer to start work, while the remaining investment has to be made by the developer.

“Ordering and construction of National Highways has increased to all-time highs of 17,055 km and 9,829 km, respectively, in FY18,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a 20 April report. “Funding is not an issue in the near-term; and the pace and process of land acquisition has improved.”

The length of national highways awarded increased to 51,073 kms between FY15-FY18 from 25,158 kms in FY11-FY14. The construction of national highways increased to 28,531 kms between FY15-FY18 from 16,505 kms between FY11-FY14.

When the Modi government announced its first budget in 2014-15, the government of the largest democracy had allocated Rs 1.91 trillion for infrastructure development. Growing at a breathtaking phase through the consecutive budgets, the investment in infrastructure segment increased from Rs 4.94 trillion in 2017-18, to Rs 5.97 trillion in the budget of 2018-19. Due to huge investment, came huge projects and monetary investment materialized into structural development.

National highway network has expanded from 92,851 km in 2013-14 to 1,20,543 km in 2017-18. Marvelous initiatives were taken resulting in exceeding infrastructural development in the form of national highways. Scores of bridges were constructed to improve connectivity and further the integration. Like building of bridges over Narmada at Bharuch and Chambal at Kota have improved road connectivity in the regions.

“Although nearly 70 percent of Bharat’s population lives in rural areas, about 40 percent of rural areas were not connected to all-weather roads, even after seven decades of Independence. Where they were connected, the road quality was not always of the best standards. With poor maintenance and earthen tracks, several rural roads became unsuitable for motorised traffic, especially during the monsoon months,” writes Vikram Sampath.

The first government which addressed this issue was of previous NDA government led by A. B. Vajpayee, which launched the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Later 2 UPA governments carried forward with meagre zeal in the name of “Bharat Nirman”. Even after 14 years of inception of the program, only 55% of the rural land was connected to all-weather roads. It is this government which took arduous steps to give finishing and vital shape to the scheme.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government (that reverted to the PMGSY nomenclature), the figure of rural eligible habitation land connectivity catapulted to nearly 82 percent by end of 2017. The quantum jump was possible due to an enhanced construction rate of 130 km of roads per day in 2016-17 – the highest in seven years until then.

A look at the figures of the Online Management, Monitoring and Accounting System (OMMAS-GIS) reveals about prodigious works done in the sector. From 3,81,314 km of roads constructed in 2013-14, the figure has jumped to 5,99,488 km in 2018/19.

Roads act as catalysts for rural development. Considering its importance, almost 2.18 lakh km of rural roads have been built in 4 years. Average speed of road construction improved from 69 km per day in 2013-14 to 134 km per day in 2017-18. Presently, rural road connectivity is more than 82%, as against 55/56% in 2014, making villages become a part of Bharat’s development trajectory.

Under most of the precursory government’s regime the critical infrastructural needs remained unaddressed thereby not only slowing Bharat’s growth rate but also adversely affecting nation’s new age ambitions. Preceding governments scarcely carried required reforms and never batted for 21st century infrastructure, this government, however, stepped out as a dark horse with fire in the belly.

Turning the tide required much more than just ironing out the wrinkles, it required the government to blaze a trail in infrastructure with robust modern and critical infrastructural reforms and progressive measures to be taken. The government did stellar and sedulous works in infrastructure sector to step out as the dark horse.

Narendra Modi led NDA government has drastically changed the way roadways construction and development was thought of in the past. With largest ever investment, public-private partnerships, modern 21st century infra-model and strong non-lackadaisical and industrious approach towards robust structural development in the country, this government did a splendid and prudent job in enhancing Bharat’s roadways infrastructure.


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About the Author

Yogendra Thakur
A student and two time state topper in Astrophysics and Art of Lecturing. Primary focus areas are Indology and Economics.