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Opinion | Towards an efficient transport infrastructure

The recent headway made in developing transport infrastructure will prove to be the biggest enabler for growth

Transport infrastructure in India has grown at an unprecedented rate during nearly the last five years. We can, in fact, claim that this has been a period of “highest evers" and “never befores" for the sector. At the highest ever pace of construction, we have built more than 35,000 km of national highways in four and a half years. The country had never before seen world-class expressways such as the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and Western Peripheral Expressway or engineering marvels such as the Dhola Sadiya Bridge and Chenani Nashri Tunnel. The Bharatmala Pariyojana is unique and unprecedented in terms of its size and design, as is the idea of developing ports as engines of growth under Sagarmala. The development of 111 waterways for transport, with multinational companies already carrying their cargo over the Ganga, is also a first ever, as are FASTags, the promotion of alternative fuels such as ethanol, methanol, biofuels, and electricity, as well as innovative modes of travel such as seaplanes and aeroboats.

An efficient transport infrastructure is the biggest enabler for growth. To that end, it has been one of the foremost priorities of our government to build a transport infrastructure that is indigenous and cost-effective, links the remotest corners of the country, is optimally integrated across various modes and is safe and environment friendly. A lack of good transport infrastructure has been a major hindrance for growth in the country in the past and our focus has been on rectifying this. Bharatmala and Sagarmala programmes are going to be game changers in this regard. They will improve both penetration and efficiency of transport movement on land and water, respectively. In the process, they will help connect places of production with markets more efficiently, help reduce logistics costs, create jobs and promote regionally balanced socioeconomic growth in the country.

Our road and sea transport networks are being developed for providing better, seamless and more efficient access not just within the country, but also to our neighbouring countries using an optimal mix of roads and waterways—whether it is to Afghanistan and beyond through Chabahar, or Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand through upcoming highways and waterways.

Apart from building infrastructure, our priority is also on improving the overall convenience and on-road experience of the road users. This involves ensuring their safety, reducing congestion and pollution levels and providing roadside amenities.

To prevent the colossal loss of lives in road accidents, we are giving priority to rectifying accident black spots through engineering means, employing road safety features at the design stage for highways, conducting road safety audits, setting up driver training and post-trauma care centres as well as generating awareness. The high rate of accidents continues to be a matter of grave concern for us and we are continuously making efforts in this direction.

Ring roads, expressways and bypasses are being constructed around many big and small cities and towns to beat traffic congestion and reduce pollution. Innovative solutions like seaplanes, ropeways, aeroboats and double-decker buses are being actively explored for adoption. These will bring down the traffic pressure and congestion on roads. Seaplanes have already been tested, and trials are soon to be conducted on aeroboats. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed with Austrian ropeway company Doppelmayr for building ropeways through congested cities and hilly areas, and another MoU has been signed with Transport for London to help us overhaul our urban transport.

To reduce pollution, I am also promoting alternative fuels like ethanol, methanol, biofuels and electricity. The concept of ‘waste to wealth’ is being employed for generating alternative fuels. Ministries concerned are working to promote generation of alternative fuels from agricultural and other waste, and also on a road map for the development of electric vehicles. We have already notified necessary rules for their use. Apart from the above, we are also giving priority to the greening of roads and FASTag-based electronic toll collection, which will prevent congestion at toll plazas and bring down pollution.

The development of transport infrastructure will also create huge employment opportunities in the country, improving the socioeconomic condition of people. The youth are being trained to take advantage of the emerging job opportunities. In the roads sector, training is being given in construction-related trades, while under Sagarmala, training is being provided in job opportunities that can come up in the maritime sector, in the factories that are slated to be built in port areas, the service industry, fisheries, tourism and many more. Already, the total number of seafarers employed in Indian and foreign ships has grown by 35% this year.

Another responsibility assigned to me, and which I hold very dear to my heart, is managing the water resources of the country and cleaning the Ganga to restore her glory. We are implementing over 260 projects in the area of sewerage infrastructure, industrial pollution control, solid waste management and riverfront management.

We have made considerable headway in achieving our objectives. We have no water shortage in the country; what we need is to manage our water resources well using innovative ideas.

Our government is determined that India’s growth story should no longer be impeded by a lack of efficient transport infrastructure, and the fruits of this growth should reach everyone in the remotest part of the country. Our success so far and our continuing efforts will be the prime enablers for realizing this objective.

Nitin Gadkari is union minister for road transport and highways, shipping and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation.

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