Collaboration is the secret sauce of all projects and the government, it appears, is belatedly giving it a burl. The Gati Shakti National Master Plan launched last week essentially integrates 16 central ministries including railways, roads and ports using technology, satellite mapping and data tools. It facilitates integrated planning and coordinated project implementation; such teamwork is expected to lower logistics costs by about 8%, or lead to savings in excess of Rs 20 lakh crore. Surely, this isn’t a post-Covid-19 prompted evolution. The Centre could have started reaping results had it rolled out the technocentric administrative initiative alongside its ballyhooed Rs 100 lakh crore National Infrastructure Pipeline in 2019. Even now, while the effort is commendable, it’s missing another centrepiece, i.e., states, holding calling cards to land acquisition and other critical decisions.
Often nations pound the drum of infrastructure development in the face of every economic slowdown, recession and depression. That’s because it’s the ideal way through which public expenditure supports growth, ensures better utilisation of scarce funds, generates large-scale jobs, encourages private investments and revives economies in the process. From the New Deal in the US after the Great Depression to the infrastructure boom in China after the 2008 financial crisis, infrastructure has been the go-to game for achieving socio-economic transformation. This has been the case in India too; studies have shown how for every rupee the government spends on infrastructure, gains worth Rs 2.5-3.5 worth are added to the GDP. Only, project delays are getting in the way of economic prosperity, which the Centre hopes to correct via Gati Shakti.
Official data shows as many as 483 infrastructure projects have been hit by cost overruns aggregating Rs 4.43 lakh crore. Even among the implemented projects across SEZs and industrial parks, many have suffered from inefficient multi-modal connectivity that boosts export competitiveness. While the Gati Shakti plan addresses this by building 500 multimodal hubs incurring Rs 50,000 crore additional investment, the government must also focus on areas such as power sector reforms to ensure uninterrupted electricity, particularly, amid rising coal shortages.