Excerpts from the talk that Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation in the Government of India, gave at the India’s road to the future conference jointly organised by Free Press Journal and Moneycontrol on Saturday, 9 December 2017. The speech was delivered in Hindi, and given below are edited and translated excerpts from that talk.

For any nation, four things are crucial – water, power, transport and communications. They provide impetus to industry and agriculture, which leads to employment generation and rise in growth rate. When I was a minister of Maharashtra state, I had kept in my office a statement of President John Kennedy – American roads are good not because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good. Roads catalyse economic activity, investment, employment and land value goes up, there is planning for townships, industrial parks and this is why roads are vital for national progress.

• In water transport, under Sagarmala, we aim to harness the 7,500 km sea front that our nation has been blessed with. We have 12 major ports and will build six more, along with 200 private and minor ports. We will link 111 rivers, of length around 20,000 km, and convert them into river ways. The total outlay of Rs 16 lakh crore includes Rs 4-5 lakh crore budget for modernisation, port mechanisation, port road connectivity and port rail connectivity. We have plans for our own railway, wherein a separate corporation will have a budget of Rs 1 lakh crore. We will build a line from Indore to Manmad and link Kasara directly to the JNPT. In Orissa, we are building a Talcher-Paradip line.

• In Maharashtra, we are creating four dry ports. Here again the railway connectivity and station will be our responsibility. We aim for all consignments from Gujarat to be offloaded at Bhayander, where we will create a minor port, and go to JNPT via barges. This will ease the Vasai bridge congestion. We are actively pursuing SEZ at JNPT, which would provide employment to 1.24-1.5 lakh people.

• We have 26 irrigation projects on the ground, especially in the suicide-prone areas. We aim to get Maharashtra from 18 per cent irrigation level to 40 per cent in two years.

• We are planning a diversion of sea-bound river water at Gujarat and Maharashtra— Rs 25,000 crore project. Once this is done, Mumbai is free of water concerns till 2070. Additionally no area in Maharashtra—Marathwada, Nasik, Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon—will have water issues. The 30-river connectivity project (Tapi-Narmada, Ganga-Cauvery) with underground pipes of 1,500 km, will resolve water issues for Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, just by similar diversion.

• On the Brahmaputra, we are building jetties. Overall 60 locations are planned. We are working to improve the draft at Haldia. Alongside, we are building roads in Assam on an outlay of Rs 1 lakh crore. Contract awards are in progress. The NHIDCL has been created specifically for the North-East, with focus on hilly areas, the Kashmir border and the North-East. Tunnelling is the way to go and we have some major marquee projects and many more in the pipeline.

For the BBIN plan—Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar— we have committed construction of 2,000 km at Rs 25,000 crore outlay with support from the Asian Development Bank. This will improve movement of exports, including to and from ports which Sagarmala will cover. One will ship material from Mumbai till the North-East via road to the Chittagong port, from where it would go to Agartala, or Bangladesh, or ever Myanmar. The South-East Asian market gets opened.

• In China logistics cost is 8 per cent, and in European nations and America it is 8-12 per cent cost. Ours is 18 per cent, which we aim to get to 12 per cent. This will boost our economy.

• With all our efforts, we (our ministry) plan to add 2-3 per cent to the national GDP. Let me make it clear that for Rs 7 lakh crore overall contracts till now, there is a zero tolerance policy for corruption and no one needs to meet me for any discussions.

• We are aiming to reduce time at checkpoints and toll points through vehicle identification technology and access control. Today a Delhi-Mumbai truck needs around 28 hours which, if we can bring down to 16 hours via technology, will improve asset utilisation and overall operator viability. A truck here runs 225-250 km daily vis-a-vis 650-700 km in America. We aim to get our figure to 400 km. With respect to access control with debit cards attached to the windscreens, this technology will be used by government vehicles as well. I have also offered my technology to other State Governments free of cost.

• Regarding Mumbai, we had resistance in construction of 55 flyovers and the Sea link but now they are congested too. But vehicles increase in multiples, and private transport is not an option. We must depend on public transport, preferably emission-free. We have an amphibian bus imported with us today, which is rotting in storage since six months, where we seek ramp creation permission to enter the water. Once permissions are in place, we have huge plans for cruise tourism which will be a good business model. I am willing to allot space for free for aeroboat factories. This will automatically include improved sea connectivity with adjoining areas. For Delhi we plan an airborne bus, but overall metro cost is somewhat expensive for a country like ours.

• Coming to MIHAN project in Nagpur, it is again doing well. Ramdev Baba (Patanjali) has initiated work on his Rs 5, 000 crore investment plan, which has job creation for 11,000 people. TCS has started work on its project. Today 13,500 people are employed there and I aim to raise this to 50,000 jobs. Anil Ambani’s joint venture with Dassault, and Saab venture with Adani will be accommodated over there. The Ambani venture can be a major global hub for Falcon components. The Tata venture anyway supplies Boeing parts from MIHAN.

• Regarding finance to purchase and ply cargo vessels, we have MoU with a Russian company, to start their manufacturing here. We planned a similar agreement with a British hovercraft company at Goa. Such companies typically have client financing arrangements and lines of credit. Now we have government approval for shipbuilding getting an industry status. A subsidy scheme is now getting in place. India has finance arms of large groups catering to automobile purchases, the same can evolve here. The finance ministry is not with me, but we will find some way out.

• Samruddhi is an eight-lane economically relevant project, however, in the long-run we need to shift priorities to waterways, railways and then roads. In Delhi-Mumbai corridor, we want to make one lane both side as an electric highway and the plan is to run trucks on electricity.

• Regarding electric cars, we already have 200 electric taxis in Nagpur, going to 1,000. Electric cable charging option is there. Mumbai today has a running cost of Rs 110 per km for their BEST buses. Nagpur has ethanol buses with a cost of Rs 78. For electric buses, we are looking to negotiate a cost of Rs 60. But capital cost of electric buses is Rs 1.50 crore, for diesel buses Rs 25 lakh and for ethanol buses Rs 80 lakh. We are looking at the London Transport mode, where there are nine operators, as a good option. It is the private operator who makes the investment in chosen buses. Separate decks for separate facilities, long-distance routes – hospitality and luxury will be a discouragement to private cars. India needs more than ten lakh buses and a model is needed. Our ministry is working on it. Delhi is a case study of what pollution can do and therefore ethanol is a sustainable alternative. We are looking at bioethanol from bamboo, we could harvest large land tracts in the North-East. Like in the American continents, cars here could have flex engines running on both petrol and bioethanol.

• Today we have 285 tonnes cement booked in the Rs 120-140 per bag range. Terms are cash and carry, no intervention, no scope for corruption. Let us appreciate that we as a ministry take up 40 per cent of total domestic cement production. I have told the suppliers that we are vital for you, please forego your black marketing habits. I have the mandate to operate ten cement factories of the government, and if it comes to that, we will market quality cement at Rs 120 per bag and set the market.

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