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HomeBud ExpectationBudget 2023 will continue Modi’s infrastructure push. But older projects lag

Budget 2023 will continue Modi’s infrastructure push. But older projects lag

Despite slow progress on projects, experts are optimistic. They emphasise that India has shifted focus from bare minimum needs to next-level infra & infra for future, which takes time.

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New Delhi: The central government’s thrust on infrastructure development, especially railways and highways, is likely to continue in the Union Budget 2023-24. However, on the ground, the pace of work on several major infrastructure projects announced in last year’s Budget is running behind target, official data show.

The roads and highways sector is expected to get an enhanced allocation in the 2023-24 budget when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveils the last full budget of the second Narendra Modi government on 1 February. The sector’s allocation is likely to go up to over Rs 2 lakh crore in 2023-24 from Rs 1.99 lakh crore in 2022-23, according to two senior officials at the road transport and highways ministry.

“Whatever was allocated to us in the 2022-23 fiscal will be over by February,” added one of the officials.

Sources in the Ministry of Railways said the allocation for the sector in the 2023-24 fiscal is likely to be around Rs 1.8 lakh crore, up from Rs 1.4 lakh crore in 2022-23.

Senior officials of the railways ministry also listed several announcements expected on Budget day. These include the laying of new tracks, the addition of more semi-high-speed Vande Bharat trains to the Railways fleet and the launch of hydrogen-propelled trains, as well as an enhanced allocation for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project.

Also Read: Gati Shakti Mission shows way for infra planning, states make full use of digital mapping

Road and Rail infra

Despite this continuing drive to boost infrastructure, many of the projects announced in the 2022-23 Budget are lagging behind schedule.

The road transport and highways ministry, for instance, had set a target of constructing 12,200 km of highways in the 2022-23 fiscal. But as of December, only a little over 5,300 km of this had been constructed, according to the ministry data.

Completing the rest by 31 March seems an uphill task, although two senior road ministry officials said they were hopeful the pace of construction would pick up in the remaining two months of the current fiscal.

In a reply to Parliament in December, highways minister Nitin Gadkari blamed the sluggish construction pace on the monsoons.

“The ministry has also assessed that this year above average rainfall during monsoon adversely impacted the construction progress. Total length of 4/6/8 lane NHs constructed during this financial year up to November is 2,038 km, which is more than 1,806 km constructed during the previous financial year for the same period. However, the overall length of all categories of NHs constructed during this financial year up to November is 4,766 km, which is less than 5,118 km that was constructed during previous financial year for the same period,” Gadkari had informed the Parliament.

The ministry’s ambitious project to build five greenfield expressways and 22 access-controlled corridors with an overall length of 9,860 kms by the 2027-28 fiscal is also running behind schedule, the second road ministry official said.

As far as the railway sector is concerned, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, marred by delays on account of land acquisition issues, is also running behind schedule.

The overall physical progress on the 508.09 km corridor was just 24.73 per cent as of 31 December, 2022, according to information tabled by the railways ministry in Parliament.

According to the sources in the Ministry of Railways, the bullet train project cost is likely to exceed the estimate of Rs 1.08 lakh crore. In the 2022-23 fiscal, the National High Speed Rail Corridor Limited (NHSRCL) — the implementing agency — was allocated Rs 19,102 crore. A provision was also made allowing investment of Rs 5,000 crore for the project through extra-budgetary resources, the sources added.

In the 2022-23 Budget, it was also announced that 400 Vande Bharat trains would be manufactured in the next three years. With two-and-a-half months to go before the current fiscal ends, only eight such trains are operational.

Vinoo N. Mathur, former member, Traffic, Railway Board, said it’s good that Indian Railways is coming up with new products such as Vande Bharat trains, which are indigenously made. “But the real benefit to passengers will happen if the Railways can increase the train’s speed and reduce journey time. Right now, the speed of the Vande Bharat trains is like any other Rajdhani or Shatabdi,” he said.

There are other infra targets announced in the 2022-23 Budget that haven’t been met. Sitharaman had said that contracts for eight ropeway projects for a length of 60 km would be awarded in 2022-23. But so far, only one contract — for a 3.85 km urban ropeway in Varanasi — has been awarded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation of a ropeway project in Mana, Uttarakhand, but no contract has been awarded for this.

Similarly, Sitharaman had announced the development of 100 PM Gati Shakti cargo terminals for multimodal logistics facilities over the next three years. Of this, till the first week of December, the Railways had commissioned just 22 such terminals while in-principle approval had been given for 79 others, railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw informed Parliament last month.

Also Read: Pier by pier, girder by girder, how bullet train project’s 348-km Gujarat leg is gathering speed

‘Focus shifting to next level of infrastructure’

Parvesh Minocha, chairman, Feedback Infra —an infrastructure consultancy firm — is optimistic that the government will continue to prioritise the sector.

“In the infrastructure space, one needs to look at a block of 10 years. Fluctuations in quarterly or annual targets will happen. The focus is now shifting from basic infrastructure to the next level of infrastructure. It’s not just the construction of a two-lane or four-lane highway but access-controlled highways and expressways. It’s a new learning curve,” Minocha told ThePrint.

According to Minocha, private capex is just beginning to take off. “We are moving from a vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle now. We are not building for meeting bare minimum needs but for meeting future demand. When you build infra for the future, the pace is different,” he added.

The challenge arises when the central government has to collaborate with the states. “Because of Centre-state friction, there is a delay,” Minocha said. “Besides, the environmental issue is a big challenge. Our infra push has to be far more sensitive towards the environment than earlier,” he added.

Mathur said the focus on the railways sector, which has capacity limitations, was long due. “But there has to be a balance between freight and passenger capacity when you are building new lines. We need capacity on the freight front. There is a need to focus on line and terminal capacities. There is also a need for additional freight corridors,” he said.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: India’s road infrastructure beginning to look impressive. But it’s a long way from world-class

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