Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Infrastructure Holds Key to India’s Growth
    Hindustan Times Jaipur Live, October 26, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Infrastructure, as everyone knows, will be the key challenge for India’s growth story. One of the key factors in infrastructure is roads, and it is worth recalling John F. Kennedy’s famous: ‘American roads are not good because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good’. Hopefully, the same will happen in India, too.

Here let me take an example of the new four lane highway between Jaipur and Udaipur via Ajmer and Kishangarh, and everyone will agree that it is beautiful. The drive is smooth and the time has been cut down hugely. Some of you may remember the 20 km stretch between Bagru, Dudu and Kishangarh which was a jinxed section with an unusually large number of accidents claiming innocent lives.

The campaign to build modern highways and bypasses was launched sometime in 1995 as the government realised that the existing highway network was not helpful for easy movement of goods and people. It also did not help the economy. The new projects were done under the Public Private Partnership framework. The same campaign was continued by the Manmohan Singh government since 2004, but during his first five year regime the progress, in terms of launching new projects, was hopeless due to an ineffective minister.

On his second term since 2009, Manmohan Singh has appointed a dynamic minister, Kamal Nath to push the agenda with vigour. On taking over as minister for roads, transport and highways, Kamal Nath said: “We have to build 7,000 kms of road network every year, taking the overall target to 35,000 kms in the next five years. We have decided to build 20 kms of roads every day, and then take it to 7,000 kms every year. The government is changing some of the regulations …to make the road infrastructure sector more investor friendly”.

While delivering the 1st CUTS Silver Jubilee Lecture in Jaipur on October 12, 2009, he said “The Indian reform model, because of its calibrated nature and encouragement of interconnectedness with the rest of the world without dependence, is the only model in which no bubble has burst. The challenge before Indians is to harness the highest growth rate in free market democracies to achieve greater inclusiveness and alleviate food insecurity and poverty. Infrastructure constitutes a key link in facilitating sustainable growth and harnessing it for our policy objectives”.

Another responsibility of Kamal Nath is to promote road safety, in a country which has one of the worst records of road accidents and fatalities in the world. Therefore, one hopes that he will take the new initiatives to accelerate the road building project by keeping human safety in mind. While building 20 kms of highways every day is laudatory and needed, we also need to save over 250 lives every day from unnecessary road accidents.

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