Budget Boost To Infrastructure

The Budget aiming to facilitate a $ 5 trillion economy in five years is sharply banking on infrastructure. That the Budget reiterated commitment to make an investment of Rs 100 lakh crore in the next five years in infrastructure lends credence to the $ 5 trillion economic script. One nation, one grid envisaging garlands of road, gas, water, airport grids proposed in the Budget may qualitatively transform the economy.

The maiden Budget presented by India’s first full time woman Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has rightly sought to scale up infrastructure investment. The first term of the Narendra Modi led Central government had indeed placed infrastructure at the top of the priority. Roads, ports and railways witnessed expansions in their capacities. Besides, the government addressed infrastructure bottlenecks. The government steered stuck projects back to the execution table. Now that the infrastructure space has arguably been restored to a healthy status the government has rightly aimed for a mighty leap of faith.

The Budget proposed an investment of Rs 50 lakh crore in Railways between 2018 and 2030. This intent is laudable, for Railways is not just a national transporter, but lifeline of India. In the past, Railways, sadly, lacked investment on the scale of Road sector. The consequential impact has been incremental shift of freight and passengers to road carriers. That the Railways is cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport underlined urgency in scaling up investment. So, firmly stating that public-private-partnership mode in Railways would seek executions of pending projects, the Budget has struck the right note. Besides, the Budget has rightly recognized timely focus on sub-urban railways on the lines of Delhi-Meerut rapid regional transport system in the face of rapid urbanization. That 657 kms of Metro rail is currently operational is truly a matter of satisfaction for the urban people’s ease of commuting to their work places.

The Budget has rightly reiterated that the completion of twin dedicated freight corridors, eastern and western, would free up substantial track capacities for expansion of passenger services. The Budget, indeed, has also emphasized speedy modernization of railway stations. The government has also made its intent clear that it would explore all options to fund the Rs 100 lakh crore corpuses for infrastructure. The plan to constitute Credit Guarantee Enhancement Corporation is a step in the right direction.

The Budget clearly has accorded highest priority to completion of ongoing projects being undertaken under industrial corridors, Bharatmala, Sagarmala, Jal Marg Vikas and UDAN. Intent is indeed clear that the Budget seeks to give financial teeth to the concept of one nation, one grid for roads, waterways, railways, power and aviation. Varanasi-Haldia waterways has showcased potential of tapping India’s rich rivers for transportation of goods at a low cost. That the government is seeking economy to tap export potential makes Sagarmala projects all the more crucial. Development of new ports and expansion of capacities of old ones along with townships make Sagarmala project central to India’s bid to enhance her share in the world trade. Export sector is definitely a source of employment generation.

Besides, the Budget has sought to give a policy direction to make India an aviation hub by tapping the potential of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul. The Bharatmala phase 2 envisages construction of 48000 kms of road network across the country. The Budget rightly proposed supporting state governments for acquiring land for the execution of Bharatmala projects. The step will surely expedite land acquisition. It’s truly laudable that 97 per cent of eligible habitations in the country are now connected with all weather road networks. Pradhan Mantri Sadak Yojna has remarkably brought rural parts of the country closer to the urban centres. The Budget reiterated focus on rural roads to help farmers reap benefits of physical connectivity. Infrastructure investment is surely a force multiplier for an economy. That the Budget stressed on Rs 20 lakh crore infrastructures spending each year signals major scaling up of the economy.

Script: Manish Anand, Sr. Special Correspondent, New Indian Express