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Pathbreaker extraordinaire

Pathbreaker extraordinaire

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Shri. Nitin Gadkari,
Minister of Road Transport and Highways.

 

 

Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Shri. Nitin Gadkari who exemplifies the art dreaming of improbable futures with his eyes wide open and then going on to make them a reality, is lending his heft to seven ‘never before’ infrastructure projects that will change how India travels, trades and manufactures forever

The word bank puts it in very plain words. “Three of the five countries with the greatest infrastructure need are in Asia (China, India and Japan), with those countries comprising 39% of global infrastructure investment needs. China alone is expected to need $28 trillion in infrastructure investment, which is more than half of Asia’s total needs and 30% of global needs. In India, if one has to single one man behind India’s infrastructural leap, it is undoubtedly Nitin Gadkari.

A nation’s roads speak eloquently of the progress made. The United States has 108,394 km of expressways compared to 2,000 of India and a whopping 142,500 of China. United States has a load length of 6,853,024 compared 5,903 of India and 5,859,500 of China. However, while China and India both have populations in excess of 130 crore, the population of the US is a little over 30 crore, which makes it a road rich country that has more road kilometers per thousand people than either of the two countries being touted as the superpowers of the future. Acutely aware of this disparity, Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Water Resources, River Development, Ganga Rejuvenation and Shipping, summarises his understanding of what roads mean to the nation by hanging a framed quote by the charismatic US President John F. Kennedy in his office that says ‘American roads are not good because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good’. The quote, a constant reminder of the long path ahead ahead before India can stand as an equal with the most powerful countries of the world, is one that Gadkari brings up time and often in his public speeches where he also reiterates his commitment to improve the road construction target to 40 km a day from the current 23 km per day.

The minister put the length of roads built in last fiscal at 8,144 km. His ministry, Gadkari said, on an average recorded road construction at the rate of 23 km a day, which used to be 2 km a day a few years back. “I had fixed the target of 40 km per day but I was not able to achieve that but I am hopeful of achieving this target,” he had said adding that his plans are to complete infrastructure work totaling Rs 25 lakh crore before his five year term came to close. The government is aiming to increase the length of national highways from the existing 96,000 km to 2 lakh km. Let us take a look at the infrastructural vision, leadership and out-of-the-box creativity that marks Gadkari’s style of getting work done.

 

Hyperloop

There are reports that Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has reached out to high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who leads Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), where he oversees the development and manufacturing of advanced rockets and spacecraft for missions to and beyond the Earth’s orbit. Gadkari has, according to reports, invited Musk to try SpaceX’s futuristic high speed train, the Hyperloop, in Pune. He has gone on record about visiting the US west coast, the global hub of hi-tech innovations, and meeting officials of tech company Tesla, which is also founded by Musk. “I offered them … they want some road for experimental purpose. I offered them the westerly bypass of Pune connected to the Express Highway. The idea is they can take an experiment between Mumbai and Pune as a pilot project,” he said, stopping short of mentioning SpaceX.

Gadkari said the Hyperloop, runs faster than an aircraft at a speed of 1,120 kmph and can cut the distance between his hometown Nagpur and Mumbai, a journey that takes about 13 hours, to 35 minutes.  SpaceX is also working on a commercial space travel project.

Speaking to reporters later on the sidelines of an infrastructure summit organised by a leading Marathi daily, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also confirmed that some discussions along the lines had been happening. Gadkari has also invited Tesla to invest in clean energy that is an area of focus for the company. Gadkari has encouraged Musk to set up a manufacturing base, and even offered land free of cost near some ports.

Noted as the 21st century’s biggest travel breakthrough, hyperloop will cater to passenger trips between 500km and 1,500km that are currently made on flights. What is more it causes 58 per cent less emissions than air travel.

 

Char Dham Road Project

One has to make the journey to Kedarnath in summer to understand the challenges of negotiating the snowy peaks that border the Tibetan side of China, which is guarded by the Ind0-Tibetan Border Police. Several pilgrims die every year in their attempts to climb the 14-kilometer uphill walk from Gaurikund that takes one to the ancient temple of Shiva.  A region of strategic importance, of great scenic beauty, which is unexplored for its tourism potential and untapped for its herbs that have great medicinal value, it had been long neglected since independence till Gadkari decided to take charge of the situation. A total cost of INR 12000 crores have been earmarked for the project, which was inaugurated by the Narendra Modi on 27 December 2016 at the Parade Ground in Dehradun, the highway, which will be called Char Dham Mahamarg, was initiated. The road will include several long bridges and tunnels to eliminate accident and fatal sliding especially during monsoons. The Indian Railway (which is also planning to connect Rishikesh to Char Dham) and National Highways Authority of India have been directed, by the Chief Secretary of India, to ensure that rail and road highway routes are integrated on this circuit.

The project will have bypasses, bridges, viaducts, pit stops, parking, helipads and helicopter emergency response services, etc along the way.

When this magazine went to print, 87% of land for the project had been acquired. Out of 53 approved sub-projects, work is on on the 28 are already of them, tendering done for another 7 sub-projects.

 

Sagarmala Pariyojana

Sagarmala is aimed at enhancing the performance of the country’s logistics sector by unlocking the potential of waterways and coastline in a manner that keeps infrastructural investments required to meet these targets at their lowest while giving optimum results. Under Sagarmala Programme, 577 projects, at an estimated investment of approximately Rs. 8.570500 lakh crore (US$120 billion), have been identified across port modernization and new port development, port connectivity enhancement, port-linked coastal economic zone industrialization and coastal community development for phase wise implementation over the period 2015 to 2035. India is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world with a GDP growth rate of 7.5% in 2015-16 and ports play an important role in the overall economic development of the country. Approximately 95 % of India’s merchandise trade (by volume) passes through sea ports. Many ports in India are evolving into specialized centres of economic activities and services and are vital to sustain future economic growth of the country such as JNPT, Mundra Port, Sikka Port, Hazira Port etc.

However, Indian ports still have to address infrastructural and operational challenges before they graduate to the next level. For example, operational efficiency of Indian ports has improved over the years but still lags behind the global average. Turnaround time (TAT) at major ports was approximately 4 days in 2014-15, whereas global average benchmark is 1-2 days. Some of the private sector ports in India like Mundra and Gangavaram, have been able to achieve a turnaround time of around 2 days.

Secondly, last mile connectivity to the ports is one of the major constraints in smooth movement of cargo to/from the hinterland. Around 87% of Indian freight uses either road or rail for transportation of goods. A significant share of this cargo experiences “idle time” during its transit to the ports due to capacity constraints on highways and railway lines connecting ports to production and consumption centers. Although water-borne transport is much safer, cheaper and cleaner, compared to other modes of transportation, it accounts for less than 6% of India’s modal split. By comparison, coastal and inland water transportation contribute to 47% of China’s freight modal mix, while in Japan and US, this share is 34% and 12.4% respectively. Significant savings can be achieved by shifting movement of industrial commodities like coal, iron ore, cement and steel to coastal and inland waterways.

Sagarmala aims to modernize India’s Ports so that port-led development can be augmented and coastlines can be developed to contribute to India’s growth. It also aims at “transforming the existing Ports into modern world class Ports and integrate the development of the Ports, the Industrial clusters and hinterland and efficient evacuation systems through road, rail, inland and coastal waterways resulting in Ports becoming the drivers of economic activity in coastal areas.

Sagarmala being a meta-word that describes not one but a cluster of projects, the progress on each of these projects is ongoing. However, one may track the progress of each of these projects on http://sagarmala.gov.in where updates are uploaded on a regular basis.

 

Bharatmala Pariyojana

Bharatmala is a new umbrella program for the highways sector that focuses on optimizing efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps through effective interventions like development of Economic Corridors, Inter Corridors and Feeder Routes, National Corridor Efficiency Improvement, Border and International connectivity roads, Coastal and Port connectivity roads and Green-field expressways.

A total of around 24,800 kms are being considered in Phase I of Bharatmala. In addition, Bharatmala Pariyojana phase -I also includes 10,000 kms of balance road works under NHDP, taking the total to 34,800 kms at an estimated cost of Rs.5,35,000 crore. Bharatmala Phase I – is to be implemented over a five years period of i.e. 2017-18 to 2021-22.

 

The Bharatmala Pariyojana includes the following key features

  • Improving the quality of roads – The launch of the scheme has been done for bring a new wave of development in the nation in the form of well-maintained and developed roads. Under this project, the construction of roads, in all parts of the nation will be undertaken.
  • Total road construction – As per the draft of the scheme, government and the ministry will strive to complete new roads, which will add up to a whopping 34, 800 kms.
  • Integrated scheme – The Bharatmala is the name that is given to the road development and it will include many other related schemes as well. With the completion of all the schemes, the overall success of the scheme will be guaranteed.
  • Total tenure of the program -The central government has the plans of finishing the scheme within a span of five years. Thus, all is set for finishing the first phase before the end of 2022.
  • Segmentation in phases – Due to the sheer magnitude and spread of the scheme, it will be divided into seven distinct phases. As of now, the first phase in under construction.
  • Constriction on a daily basis – To finish the first phase in time, the respective department has made efforts of constructing at least 18 km of path on a daily basis. To beat the clock, continued efforts are being made to raise it to 30 km/day.
  • Different categories of road construction – It has been highlighted in the official draft of the scheme that to provide better connectivity, the construction of various categories of roads will be undertaken.
  • Multi-source of finding – One source will not be enough for funding a mammoth project. Thus, the government will have to depend on other sources for generating adequate money to meet the expenses.

 

Bharatmala Pariyojana, the highlights

  • Improvement in efficiency of existing corridors through development of multimodal logistics parks and elimination of choke point
  • Enhance focus on improving connectivity in North East and leveraging synergies with inland waterways
  • Emphasis on use of technology and scientific planning for project preparation and asset monitoring
  • Delegation of powers to expedite project delivery – Phase I to complete by 2022
  • Improving connectivity in the North East

 

Multi-modal hubs

Multi-modal hubs, as the name suggests, refers to locations that are like hubs of a wheel accessible from other locations through multiple means of transport like road, rail, air and water. After award of a record Rs 4.5 lakh crore contracts in the highways sector, a multi-modal transport planning comprising airports, railways, bus stations and waterways will be implemented in a big way, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari announced, late last year.

He added that a 15 per cent rise in budget allocation for highways was a welcome step and for the first time the budget has made a provision for multi-modal transport hubs, which will comprise air, rail, surface and water transport.

The country needs to adopt a holistic and integrated multi-modal transport planning for the sector including roads, railways, waterways and airways to reduce traffic congestion, bring down pollution and make the overall movement of passengers and goods more efficient and cost effective.

Gadkari pointed out that in most cities, bus stations, airports and railway stations are situated at quite a far distance from each othe and if these are properly integrated, a lot traffic congestion and pollution can be reduced.

The government is committed to set up multi-modal hubs where all modes of transport — air, road, rail and waterways wherever possible — are within close proximity to each other Besides this, latest technology for electricity based Mass Rapid Transport like the metrino and hyperloop will be set up.

Talking about the Shipping sector Gadkari said that Sagarmala is all set to be a game changer with its stress on port led development.

The programme will create 1 crore jobs, including 40 lakh direct and 60 lakh indirect ones, he said, adding ports are being mechanised and modernised.

He said waterways are also being developed in a big way and 111 rivers would be developed as National Waterways besides promoting coastal shipping along the country’s 7,500 km of coastline.

Ro-Ro services are being launched to cut down travel time and distance and cruise services are being brought in to carry both goods and passengers.

The agenda of the Ministry is to harness the full potential of the maritime sector through its Sagarmala programme, he said.

 

Mass Rapid Electric Transport

Gadkari has been a strong advocate of transport powered on bio fuel and electricity. “Given high levels of pollution of metro cities like Delhi, electric vehicles for public transport and vehicles on bio-fuel are the need of the hour and the government is working on charging infrastructure,” the minister has said in a media interaction.

Gadkari asserted that this mode of transport will check pollution as the 22 per cent annual growth in the automobile sector requires one additional lane of highway every third year at a cost of Rs 80,000 crore, which is not a viable option.

Nagpur, Gadkari’s hometown, already has 200 electric taxis running, while another 1,000 will be added by December. There are already 20 charging stations in the city while three types are being created that can charge a battery in 15 minutes flat.

The cost of lithium ion batteries, a relatively benign product from the environmental perspective, have already been slashed by 40 per cent and mass production could lead to further reduction in prices, Gadkari added.

He has repeatedly emphasized the need for promoting bio fuel to combat pollution, highlighting the need for cost-effective, pollution free and indigenous system to deal with it. The petroleum ministry is working on a Cabinet note on manufacturing second generation ethanol from rice and wheat straws along with its policy on checking crop burning is likely in a month.

 

Gujarat-Rajasthan canal

Portions of what have been called the Great Indian Desert, which includes the arid wastes of the Rann of Kutch could turn into verdant forest and farms if Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s dream of building a 850-km canal from Gujarat to Rajasthan come true. Through a process that is extensively used in Israel, Gadkari intends to use the water from the Arabian sea water from the Gujarat coast to Rajasthan and then transform the barren Rann of Kutch and Thar Desert regions into lush economies rich in water. The project when it turns reality would not only solve the chronic drinking water problem but also make water available for industrial purposes and thus halt migration to cities and develop other industrial centers that will power a new India. The water can also be used to provide clean drinking water, salt, gas to run urea plants, reduce power tariff and promote coastal movement of coal, lime and other products, besides employing at least 1,000 youth. Land for the project has been surveyed and WAPCOS (Water and Power Consultancy Services), a Government of India undertaking, has agreed to invest in the project. Gadkari being a proponent of making a fortune from waste expressed hope that gas obtained from salt manufacturing will be used to set up a urea plant there will in turn will reduce the urea prices.

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