The following is an in-depth analysis of the October 16, 2021 Hindu Editorial titled ‘Fast forward: On Gati Shakti National Master Plan’.
‘Gati Shakti’ could move goods faster propelling the economy
However, the real hurdle is to onboard all states to the grand idea.
On October 13, PM Mr. Modi announced the Gati Shakti National Master Plan. That infrastructure upgrade underpins India’s economic growth is a fact almost all experts agree on. Removing logistical bottlenecks will cut costs in so many ways and spur productivity.
The Gati Shakti Master Plan is a very innovative concept that leverages the combined strengths of railways, road transport, and sea ports through the use of Information technology, satellite mapping and data integration on real time basis. Under this overarching plan, as many as 16 ministries will be brought in.
The grandiose plan envisages an outlay of Rs.111-lakh crore. The myriad projects will be executed under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) for 2020-25. Rail-road multimodal connectivity has been accorded a lot of importance with the responsibility of hauling a lion’s share of the falling on the country’s railways. The NITI Aayog has midwifed this novel idea to rejuvenate the stuttering transport system. The Aayog has rightly identified the many benefits of the proposed plan while prioritizing it.
A clogged transport network leads to higher manufacturing and trading cost, which, in turn, eats into the country’s GDP. The loss to GDP used to be 14% when the NDA government came to power. It aimed to reduce this high cost to about 8% of the GDP.
The other challenge is to bring down vehicular emissions appreciably, so that India is seen to be fulfilling its obligations towards combating climate change. Diesel costs have gone through the roof in recent months, thanks to government taxation. This has pushed up costs of both raw materials and finished goods. Large scale switching to rail transport will cut diesel consumption, and curb avoidable price rise.
Ports in India are often congested leading to longer turn-around time of ships. If port operations are streamlined, their cargo handling capacities will be boosted, and wasteful waiting time of ships can be curtailed. Quite clearly, States where the ports are located can bring about a lot of positive change in the logistical environment around ports. Road links to ports, land around ports needed for expansion, locating industry clusters in the vicinity of ports are all matters coming under the control of States. Therefore, the States’ administration must be in the same page as those of the central government. Any discord between the two will create unnecessary barriers in the utilization of ports.
The Economic Survey for 2020-21 highlights the need for a good working relationship between the State and the Center for efficient execution of initiatives towards logistical upgrades through infrastructure development. The Survey envisages a staggering investment of Rs. 8.5 lakh crores towards NIP (National Infrastructure Pipeline) sectors such as energy, roads, urban infrastructure and railways for FY 2021 and 22 to be invested by either side annually. Apart from this, the private sector will chip in with Rs.4.5 lakh crores.
With the economy still limping under the stress of the pandemic, mobilizing such humongous capital appears to be a real uphill task. However, if the investment is lined up, most of the debilitating effects of Covid-19, such as loss of jobs, depletion of wages, and spiralling poverty can be mitigated.
The lurking danger for project execution in India is the notoriously slow process of land acquisition. In most cases, the process gets bogged down in litigation, and triggers violent agitations by locals whose land is to be acquired. Identifying lands that are too degraded for habitation or are too barren for farming through high-tech methods like Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing has now become possible, thanks to the technological advances of the country. Swathes of such land can be taken over without causing any backlash from communities. Educating the citizens about the long-term desirability of such projects will reduce friction, and ensure their healthy participation during execution of projects. So, this aspect must not be neglected. Fast-tracking the economy benefits one and all, and the people will cooperate if they are transparently told about the pros and cons of the up-coming giant projects.