For the ‘go-getter’ minister at the helm of affairs to overhaul the country’s infrastructure, India has the potential to realize all this and much more. “I have been talking about seaplanes. If it starts, in India we have the potential of starting 10,000 seaplanes. We have 3 to 4 lakh ponds in India, plenty of dams, 2,000 river ports, 200 small ports and 12 major ports. It will cost less," road transport, highways and shipping minister Gadkari told PTI.
The minster said he has asked his civil aviation counterpart Ashok Gajapathi Raju to explore a regulatory regime for single-engine seaplanes to facilitate introduction of such planes in the country as early as possible. “Seaplanes can land in one foot water and require only 300 metre runway. It has a huge potential and runs at a speed of 400 km per hour. Our ministry and the aviation ministry will finalize its rules and regulations soon. There are different rules in America, Canada, Japan. We will study their laws in three months," Gadkari said.
The minister, along with Raju, had participated in a seaplane trial run of budget carrier SpiceJet at the Girgaum Chowpatty off the Mumbai coast on 9 December. SpiceJet plans to buy more than 100 amphibian aircraft at an estimated cost of $400 million.
Describing cruises as “floating cities", Gadkari said they have the potential to swell to more than 950 from about 90 at present. Cruises from India could go to Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand and massive efforts are underway to boost this segment, including a Rs1,000 crore terminal being built in Mumbai. A policy is also in the works.
Listing priorities for 2018, Gadkari said work will start on much-awaited India’s first pod taxi project after a high- level panel recommended inviting fresh bids for the same conforming to the strictest global safety standards.
“Seaplanes, cruises, waterways, electric vehicles, pod taxis, catamarans, expressways" or the mammoth Rs16 trillion Sagarmala and Rs7 trillion Bharatmala initiatives will change the face of India’s infrastructure, he claimed.
Another key thrust area would be to reduce crude imports of Rs7 trillion by at least half and provide jobs to at least 50 lakh youth in related industries. “We are making efforts to overhaul transport. We are importing crude oil worth Rs7 lakh crore. We have decided to bring cost effective, import substitute, pollution free and indigenous fuel. We will gradually convert our transport to electric, ethanol, methanol, bio-diesel, bio CNG and other such means. At least 1,000 new industries will begin in the country, employing 50 lakh youth," he said.
The minister also said electric buses will be promoted. “We can reduce ticket rates by 30-35% by it. This has super capacitor technology. A charged bus can run for 36 km and will be charged in 3 minutes. “We are planning that on Delhi-Mumbai (highway), one lane can be reserved for converting into electric highway," he said.
As far as batteries are concerned, 11 companies have started manufacturing lithium ion batteries and the prices have dropped by 50%, he said, adding that recently in Gurgaon a green transport fleet of 1,000 electric auto- rickshaws was launched.
Projecting 20,000 km of highways will be awarded by March 2018, Gadkari said last year it was 16,500 km. “This year our road building reached 28 km a day from a mere 2 km a day when we took over. Next year it will be 40 km a day. Next year target will be 25,000 km," he said.
To power the ambitious highway growth plans, he said National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will soon come up with a bond issue offering attractive coupon rates of above 7%. He urged the people to invest in it rather than chit funds or other such schemes. “We have decided that NHAI will raise funds from the poor... We will try to give 7.5% to the common man and 7.75% to women, those above 60 years and defence personnel. They will get interest for 10 years. Monthly interest will be submitted in their accounts," he said.
Gadkari said his ministry will soon begin work on Rs7.5 trillion highway projects under Bharatmala. The ministry also plans to train about 3.5 lakh workers under the skill development programme for highways.
He said a certain percentage of the projects above Rs100 crore will be earmarked for skill development and his ministry alone would create 2 crore jobs. He said India faces shortage of 22 lakh drivers and one lakh driving training centres are on the anvil in the first phase in collaboration with states. PTI