25 Years of Indian Infrastructure: Remarks by Nitin Jairam Gadkari on the release of the commemorative issue

Nitin Jairam Gadkari, Union Minister, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, formally released Indian Infrastructure’s 25th Anniver­sary Issue last month. The high-profile event was attended by leading representatives of the infrastructure sector. On the occasion, the minister commended Indian Infrastructure for its contribution to the sector and spoke about the strides taken by the industry over the past 25 years. Excerpts from the minister’s address on the occasion…

My special best wishes to Indian Infra­structure magazine for its successful journey of 25 years and for its valuable contribution to the development of Indi­an infrastructure. I strongly believe that infrastructure development is crucial to a country’s economic growth and progress. A robust and well-connected road and transport network, accessible power and water infrastructure, and an advanced communication network are all fundamental to industrial growth, and crucial for ushering in capital investment. Both industrial growth and capital investment play a key role in employment generation, which, in turn, will he­lp in eradicating poverty.

The vision of achieving a $5 trillion economy and making India Aatmanirbhar has infrastructure development at its bedrock. India’s national highway network is the second longest in the world. Before the end of 2024, the aim is to make India’s road infrastructure equivalent to that of the US. Considering the pace at whi­ch the road sector is progressing, I believe this goal is attainable.

The length of roads with four lanes stands at 44,654 km at present, a 143 per cent increase from 18,371 km in 2014; the length of two-lane roads with paved shoulders is 88,941 km, an 85 per cent rise from 45,399 km in 2014; and the length of high-speed corridors is approximately 3,106 km, a 779 per cent in­crease from 353 km in 2014. The highest ever national highway construction rate has re­a­ched 37 km per day in 2020-21, a 219 per cent rise from 11.6 km per day in 2014. In 2014, the annual average project awards stood at 3,952 km, which has now increased to arou­nd 11,287 km, a 185 per cent rise.

FASTag penetration stands at 98 per cent, with more than 72.6 million FASTag issuances. The average daily toll collection is over Rs 1.45 billion, and the total toll collection over the past five years has reached Rs 1.62 trillion. The mi­nistry is now focusing on moving to a satellite-based toll system with the aim of gradually phasing out toll plazas.

The government’s flagship programme, Bha­rat­mala Pariyojana, is aimed at developing a highway network of 65,000 km. Phase I, in­vol­ving the development of about 35,000 km of national highway network with a capital ex­pen­diture of Rs 10.64 trillion, is already underway. As of 2023, around 27,000 km of road length has been awarded and 14,500 km has been constructed. Further, 27 greenfield expressways are under construction at a cost of Rs 4.5 trillion.

In recent years, the road tunnel infrastructure has also witnessed significant expansion. A total of 154 tunnels, spanning 425 km and costing Rs 2.5 trillion, are at various stages of development on national highways. Of these, 30 tunnels spanning 45 km are operational, 59 tunnels spanning 122 km are under implementation, and 65 tunnels spanning 258 km are at the DPR stage. Between Srinagar and Jammu alone, 18 tunnels are being developed, with 14 already completed. By the end of December, the remaining four are set to be completed.

Some of these tunnels have been game changers for road connectivity. Earlier, the travel distance between Manali and Rohtang Pass was 3.5 hours. Now, with the Atal Tunnel, the travel time has reduced significantly. The Zojila Tunnel, one of the longest tunnels in Asia, provides connectivity between Srinagar and Ladakh, spanning a length of 14.2 km. Around 70 per cent of the work on this tunnel has already been completed.

Meanwhile, significant works are underway on the UER-II (Urban Extension Road -II) project, aimed at decongesting the national capital. The Dwarka Express Highway, with a budget of Rs 100 billion, is 80 per cent complete and is expected to be commissioned in early 2024. The DND Interchange-Kalindi Kunj-Fari­dabad-Ballabgarh-Sohna stretch and the six-laning of the intersection from Akshardham to the Eastern Peripheral Expressway are also pro­gressing at a fast pace. The six-lane Delhi-Dehradun expressway is also underway and is likely to be commissioned in January 2024, bringing down the travel time to merely two ho­urs. Other notable projects currently under construction include a four-lane road from Go­ha­na to Sonipat, connectivity between the Indira Ga­n­dhi International Airport (IGIA) and Jewar Air­port, the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and a bypass from Rangapuri. The Delhi-Meerut Ex­pre­ss Highway is a noteworthy project, which has reduced the travel time from four hours to just one hour. The four-lane Uttar Pradesh-Haryana border at Sonipat and the six-lane Gurgaon to Sohna road have been completed. Meanwhile, a flyover and an underpass on the Delhi-Gurgaon route is also completed. Eight-lane corridors from Dhaula Kuan to IGIA were completed in 2020. An elevated U-turn near Ambience Mall and an eight-lane corridor from Dhaula Kuan to the airport are now operational.

In addition to our focus on enhancing connectivity, we are increasingly focusing on redu­cing the sector’s carbon footprint. I am working as a missionary against the use of fossil fuels. To this end, I am actively engaged in promoting biofuels and agriculture-driven fuels for energy production. In G20, we formed a biofuel allian­ce, wherein we are looking at using agricultural waste and by-products such as sugarcane stalks and rice straw to produce ethanol. We are exploring the production of bio-CNG and bio-LNG by using rice straw, with 185 projects underway in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Now is also the time when we should start looking at producing methanol from low-cost coal, which can be used in trucks, buses as well as in the shipping industry. The rate of methanol is Rs 25 per litre as compared to Rs 110 for diesel. It is also less polluting. It can definitely be considered as an alternative fuel. Green hydrogen is the future and the aim is to bring down its cost to less than one dollar so that it can benefit a variety of sectors, ranging from roads, railways and aviation to pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, chemicals and steel.

We are actively deploying alternative mod­es of public transport on electricity to cater to first and last-mile connectivity, such as Rope­ways, Cable Cars, Aerial Tramways and Funicu­lar Rails, to ensure that mobility is clean and green even in hilly and remote areas. We are also in the process of developing e-highways, characterised by electric busses and electric trucks. At present, the logistics cost in the country is 14 to 16 per cent, and our mission is to reduce it to a single-digit figure, about 9 per cent, by the end of 2024. The development of good quality roads and the use of alternative fuels for mobility will help in bringing down logistics costs in the country.

Progress in the road sector will facilitate the growth of several other sectors. Good quality roads will have a positive impact on the automobile industry. When I took charge as minister, the size of the automobile industry was Rs 4.5 trillion, and we were the seventh largest market in the world. Since then, we have taken major strides – we are now number three in the world, after the US and China respectively. The size of the industry now stands at Rs 12.5 trillion. The industry is already creating 40 million direct and indirect jobs in the country, giving maximum GST to the state and central governments, and driving economic growth. Our target now is to increase the industry’s value to Rs 25 trillion, and become the number one manufacturing hub in the world.

Tourism is another sector where good quality roads and enhanced connectivity can play a vital role. To this end, we are developing the Ram Van Gaman Marg, with a length of 255 km and a cost of Rs 50 billion. It is 40 per cent complete as on date. Construction is also underway on the Ram Janaki Marg, with a length of 440 km and a cost of Rs 50 billion, and on the Ayodhya 84 Kosi Parikrama Marg, with a length of 235 km and a cost of Rs 74 billion. Meanwhile, Braj 84 Kosi Parikrama (300 km length and Rs 59 billion cost) and Ayodhya Ring Road (67 km and Rs 45 billion) are at the DPR stage. The Buddha Circuit (419 km and Rs 200 billion) and the Char Dham National Highway Project (827 km and Rs 120 billion) are 78 per cent and 71 per cent complete res­pe­c­tively. In Maharashtra, Palakhi Marg projects, with a length of 365 km and a cost of Rs 120 billion, are more than 60 per cent complete. The 80 km long Kailash Mansarovar project is about 70 per cent complete and will be commissioned by March 2025. We are also connecting various hill stations and cities in the Himalayan region. Going forward, the development of road infrastructure will create more tourism, boost socio-economic development and generate employment.

Some of the key trends and focus areas for the future will be satellite-based tolling to monitor vehicle movement and calculate toll char­ges as per the actual distance travelled, eliminating the need for physical toll plazas; the adoption of digital tools and technologies for O&M, to tackle escalating traffic volumes; and road safety measures. There will also be a growing focus on environment-friendly road construction and maintenance practices such as utilising recycled materials, implementing eco-friendly technologies and minimising the carbon footprint of road projects. Finally, the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles will necessitate the development of appropriate infrastructure, regulations and policies.