Rs 9.46 lakh worth of projects have been pushed through online monitoring system, the finance minister said.
New Delhi: Despite the larger belief being that the main focus of the Union Budget 2018-19 was on the agricultural economy, the infrastructure sector remained the single largest target area for finance minister Arun Jaitley, who termed it the “growth driver of economy” while announcing an “all-time high allocation to rail and road sectors”.
Rs 50 lakh crore needed for infrastructure
At the outset in his Budget speech, Jaitley, while stating that India needed investments over Rs 50 lakh crore in infrastructure to “increase growth of GDP, connect and integrate the nation with a network of roads, airports, railways, ports and inland waterways and to provide good quality services”, declared that the government would be enhancing public investment.
One of the highlights of the infrastructure sector push, he said, was that through the online monitoring system of PRAGATI alone, projects worth Rs 9.46 lakh crore had been facilitated and fast-tracked.
For road infrastructure, the finance minister said the Bharatmala Pariyojana had been approved for providing connectivity to interior and backward areas and borders of the country by developing about 35,000 km of roads in phase-I at an estimated cost of Rs 5,35,000 crore. He said the government was also confident of completing 9,000-km length of national highways during 2017-18.
NHAI to monetise existing highways
The minister also announced use of “new innovative” monetising structures, such as toll, operate and transfer (TOT) and infrastructure investment funds (InvITs) by the National Highway Authority of India for raising equity from the market for its road assets which have matured by turning them into special purpose vehicles (SPVs).
As the rail budget is now merged with the Union Budget, Jaitley dedicated a significant portion of his speech on how “strengthening the railway network and enhancing Railways’ carrying capacity has been a major focus of the Government”.
He said the capital expenditure of the Railways for 2018-19 had been pegged at Rs 1,48,528 crore with a large part devoted to capacity creation, which involves 18,000 km of line doubling, third and fourth line works and 5,000-km of gauge conversion.
Entire rail network to shift to broad gauge
While noting that almost the entire network would be shifted to broad gauge, he said electrification work was also being expanded and 4,000 km are targeted for commissioning. The minister said work on the eastern and western dedicated freight corridors was also progressing and Railways would be procuring 12,000 wagons, 5,160 coaches and approximately 700 locomotives during 2018-19.
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On the maintenance of track infrastructure, he said over 3,600 km of track renewal had been targeted during the current fiscal. The Railways is also taking to use of technology like ‘‘Fog Safe’’ and ‘‘Train Protection and Warning System’’ to prevent accidents. Besides, 4,267 unmanned level crossings in the broad gauge network would be removed over the next two years to eliminate possibility of road-rail collisions.
All stations and coaches to get wi-fi, CCTV
Jaitley also announced redevelopment of 600 major railway stations by Indian Railway Station Development Co. Ltd. and declared that all stations with over 25,000 footfall per day would be provided with escalators. Subsequently, he said all railway stations and trains will also be provided with wi-fi and CCTVs.
The minister also made a mention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project – the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train – when he announced that an institute for training manpower on high-speed rail projects was coming up in Vadodara, Gujarat.
On air travel, the minister said in the last three years, domestic air passenger traffic had grown at 18% per annum and airline companies had placed orders for more than 900 aircraft. He said regional connectivity scheme of UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik), which would ensure that even those wearing “chappals” will be able to fly, has also been initiated to connect 56 unserved airports and 31 unserved helipads, and operations had already started at 16 airports.