Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari
Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has a simple mantra at hand, build more, build faster while maintaining all precautions to beat the Covid-19 induced economic slowdown.

Gadkari, the Union Minister for Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, in an exclusive interview with IANS, said that a massive push to infrastructure creation should take place as a means to mitigate the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and to accelerate growth. In essence, the minister aims to attain a faster pace of highway construction, boost the Bharatmala Pariyojana programme, and aid the MSME and the auto sectors, among others.

Lately, Gadkari has been in touch with various stakeholders spanning multiple sectors via video conferencing to devise the strategies to re-start the clogged road networks, rescue the stranded truck drivers and allow limited construction activity.

At present, India is under a more relaxed form of lockdown which will last till May 17. However, ratings agencies have cut the country's GDP forecast on lack of economic activities. Besides, many companies have instituted pay cuts and have downsized their workforce. The lockdown to curb the spread of the virus has had an adverse impact on the country's economy.

Not just sectors such as airlines, tourism, hotels and automobiles, but even the government's own revenue accretion has been impacted. Particularly impacted are the MSMEs. The sector is essentially the backbone of the economy. Consequently, Gadkari has come out with a plan to revive the economy while keeping all health related safeguards of social distancing in place. According to Gadkari, the Centre will not hesitate "to take any decision required to bring complete transparency, remove bottlenecks and introduce fast-track highway development".

A lot of projects are of national importance and immediate start of work on these projects is very important. But we also understand the intensity of this pandemic. I have reviewed the present scenario," the minister told IANS. "Wherever we can gradually open construction works in identified zones with the permission of the local administration, we shall certainly do so. We are exploring the possibility of restarting works as soon as possible. "However, we are only looking at allowing those works to start where standard social distancing norms can be followed and highest standards of hygiene and safety are adhered to," he said.

In terms of highway development, the minister said, "Though we are hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, we aspire to maintain the momentum of last year and our targets for construction in FY 2020-21 are slightly more than last year at 10,250 km."

"Similarly, for awarding of new works, we have a target of 12,650 km," he added.

When asked about the process of reviving the BOT (Toll) mode of highway development and incorporation of amendments proposed in the Model Concession Agreement (MCA), the minister replied: "After an exhaustive process of consultations with all stakeholders, the process of incorporation of amendments in the Model Concession Agreement of BOT (Toll) mode is at the final stage."

"The objective of the entire exercise has been to take into consideration the concerns of the highway construction industry and revive BOT (Toll) mode as an attractive option for concessionaires keen to work with the government in the PPP domain," he said.

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