Widely recognised as a visionary performer, Minister of Road, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, who also handles the Shipping portfolio, tells Yatish Yadav that he wants to bring down road accident-related deaths and expand National Highways by 2019. Excerpts from the interview:
How has the journey been for your ministry?
When we formed the government in May 2014, construction of highways was 2 km per day. Now it is 18 km per day. We pushed for bio-fuel to cut down on dependency and massive expenditure on importing fuel and launched battery-operated rickshaws to reduce pollution and to provide employment. We have given top priority to road safety. There are 5 lakh road accidents per year, causing 1.5 lakh deaths and loss of Rs 55,000 crore. My aim is to bring down road accident-related deaths by 50 per cent by 2019. We will expand National Highways to 150,000 km from the existing 97,000 km by 2019.
What measures are you planning?
We have incorporated some of the best motor rules in the world in our Road Safety Bill for Indian conditions. We are ensuring cashless treatment of accidents victims in the first 48 hours. The bill has a provision of ‘golden hour’ to extend relief to victims within one hour.
What about opening up the road transport sector for entrepreneurs?
Roads bring prosperity. When I assumed office, projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore was stuck. We resolved the issues. We will build cheaper and durable cement roads.
Are you satisfied with the Sagarmala project?
We are improving connectivity to the hinterland through Sagarmala, which will help development of coastal areas with projects like port-based industrialisation, coastal tourism, logistic parks, etc. There are three important aspects of this project: comprehensive development of India’s coastline, modernisation of ports, and connecting coastal states. We are preparing a comprehensive project and a national perspective plan for Sagarmala.
How will Kandla and Paradip ports be different from smart cities?
Ports can be fulcrums around which smart cities can be developed. Reserves available with ports can leverage development as it will provide stable revenue streams. Private sector is willing to step in through PPP projects.
Rs 55,000 crore has been allocated for roads and highways.
We will finish projects worth Rs 5 lakh crore in the next five years. When I was building the Mumbai-Pune highway, I insisted on an optic fibre line despite opposition. The highway earns Rs 27 crore. We are thinking of putting gas or water lines along highways. A cement bag costs Rs 325 in the market. We went for tendering. Companies offered me one cement bag for Rs 160.