Infra: Must Go At Full Throttle
In next three decades, India must create ultra-modern infrastructure network to rightfully call itself a superpower
Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami
Optimists say India is on the cusp of a major innovative and ultra-modern development boom in the infrastructure sector. In the next 30 years, the transportation sector will throw up some of the world’s best and fastest modes of travel, most of which will be available in India. Imagine covering the distance between Delhi and Mumbai in less than an hour using Hyperloop or in five hours using the high-speed Shinkansen Bullet trains. Most citizens will own their homes and stay in an interconnected smart city breathing clean air, travelling across India and beyond on ultra-modern roads, rails and air networks and much more. But for all that to become a reality, a lot of work, decisions and investments have to be made today and over the next decade or so.
In its 71st year of independence, the Indian infrastructure sector has a lot to celebrate. Experts say that infrastructure creation in independent India can be categorised in three distinct phases. Phase 1: focus was on developing basic and heavy industries and repairing the damage from partition — significant investments went into railways and maritime transport. Phase 2: focus on creating adequate irrigation facilities to ensure food security as well as on building rural roads. Phase 3: a bulk of investments were made to expand telecom infrastructure, and across various initiatives for the take-off of the Indian IT industry during the 1990s. “But the biggest push came in the 2000s when the Vajpayee government pushed for Golden triangle,” says Jaijit Bhattacharya, Partner and Head, Economics, Regulatory and Policy Advisory, KPMG India, adding that rural road construction is a top priority today. “Budget 2017 alone allocated Rs 270 billion for it, and the pace of construction reached 133 km of roads per day in 2016-17,” elaborates Bhattacharya. Going forward, some key government infrastructure projects will put India’s infrastructure and economic growth on the fast track. These include the Bharatmala project that focuses on development of border and international connectivity roads, the Sagarmala project that seeks to unlock the full potential of India’s coastline and waterways, and economic corridors among others.
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If all the plans that have been set in motion meet their desired objective, India will be among the most advanced countries in terms of infrastructure. For example, India has been promoting a multi-modal transport strategy involving railways, highways and waterways. To access transnational multi-modal connectivity, the cabinet has already approved the signing of the International Road Transports (TIR) Convention. Under the Logistics Efficiency Enhancement Programme, the government aims to develop 35 multi-modal logistics parks. India is also part of several infrastructure projects that aim to improve connectivity to CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) countries. The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway is expected to be completed by 2019. This road is likely to be extended to other CLMV countries, thereby making it easier for Indian firms to reach East Asian supply chains through these routes. The Kaladan multimodal transit transport system will link India’s North-East with Myanmar’s Sittwe port, where a trade zone is being developed, which is just 100-120 km away from the trilateral highway. The rail-based Dedicated Freight Corridors will lead to improvement in average speeds and loads of freight railways. But what is the caveat here? “In order to realise the full potential of these opportunities, there needs to be important structural changes. Super-efficient trade facilitation centres need to be set up for an effective ease of doing business. Information and communication technology will act as an enabler for multiple initiatives, like documentation and procedure simplification, logistics park operations, etc.,” says Bhattacharya.
Brotin Banerjee, managing director and CEO of Tata Housing Development Company, says infrastructure must cater to how our cities will work in the future. “An IT-driven Smart Cities transformation, already underway, that brings intelligent services to citizens and integrated transport systems, will throw different infrastructure challenges, and will fundamentally change how cities are run and lived in,” he says.