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The Modi-government is expected to open two key infrastructure projects this month. On May 26, the much-awaited Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), envisioned to decongest the National Capital, is likely to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister.
The day on which the government completes four years in power will also see the first phase of Delhi-Meerut expressway being opened to the public.
He named Zojila bypass tunnel, costing Rs 6,000 crore, and Indian ports making profits to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore as other infrastructure achievements.
Talking about achieving the target of building 41 km of highways per day, the Union Minister said at present we are doing 28 km per day and before March-end, we will complete 40-45 km per day which will fulfill the target.
In another important highway project that will connect the National Capital, Delhi, to the financial capital, Mumbai, Gadkari said the government is making the highway with a new alignment that will help save Rs 16,000 crore on land acquisition and reduce the Delhi-Mumbai distance by 125 km. The Vadodara to Mumbai phase of the project is expected to start within 15 days costing about Rs 45,000 crore.
“Alignment is now in the final stage, we will start the land acquisition, but for the other package, we will start the work. It is not my commitment, but my target is to complete this project within three years,” he said.
While Gadkari is confident of commencement of commercial operations of seaplanes by December-end, on the Clean Ganga front, he said by March 2019, at least 80 percent of Ganga will be clean.
The minister claims at least 1 crore direct and indirect jobs have been created by his ministry.
Keeping 2019 general elections in mind, he said if the NDA returns to power, he would like to continue as the transport and highways minister, but the decision would rest with the Prime Minister.
Q. What has been the biggest achievement of your ministry and the government, overall?
A. As far as my ministry is concerned, on May 26, the Prime Minister is going to open the two express highways of the country. One part is of Delhi-Meerut, between Delhi and Dasna. That is a 14-lane road, where 2.5 meters on both sides are reserved for a cycle track. At the same time, we are now inaugurating the Delhi Ring Road, which is the eastern peripheral, which is going to reduce 50 percent traffic jam and pollution of Delhi because the people coming from Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh…going from one state to another state, you have to go through Delhi. So now, they do not need to come to Delhi. So, this is going to reduce 50 percent pollution and the traffic jam of Delhi.
Then we have a state-of-the-art project in Arunachal Pradesh, a big bridge, already inaugurated by the Prime Minister. Then a big tunnel between Jammu and Srinagar, 9.5 km. And on May 19, Prime Minister is going to have a big function in Ladakh that is for Zojila bypass tunnel of Rs 6,000 crore. So, these are the achievements of my ministry. But there are a lot of achievements. All our ports are in good profits — this year, our profit will be Rs 7,000 crore; the first year, it was Rs 3,000 crore, the second year it was Rs 4,000 crore, the third year was Rs 5,000 crore and the fourth year, this is Rs 7,000 crore. And we increased the efficiency by two times.
Q. You just said that the Prime Minister is going to inaugurate the first phase of the Delhi-Meerut Highway. By when can we see the completed project? From Delhi to Meerut was the promise.
A. This is the first package we are going to inaugurate, but the other part, it will take at least one year more. Work is going on very fast and presently it takes three-and-half hours from Meerut to Delhi. It will take 40-45 minutes.
Q. When you took over the ministry, you had set a target of building 41 km of highways per day. What has been the record? And what do you intend to achieve in the last year in power?
A. Presently, at the end of March, we are at 28 km per day. Next year, before March-end, we will complete 40-45 km per day. So my 40-km declaration, the target, 101 percent we are going to fulfill that target next year.
Q. What has been the most difficult challenge or constraint in building highways in India?
A. In India, there are all kinds of constraints. But I always have a philosophy that there are some people who convert problems into opportunities and there are some people who convert opportunities into problems. My problems are good opportunities for me. And it is the success of my department. It is not only my success, it is a team success. My secretary, my engineers, my chief engineers, National Highways Authority (NHAI) people, National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) people, those who are working hard day and night. So, it is a success of collective team spirit that we have fantastic results.
Q. You have talked about building a new Delhi-Mumbai Highway in a new alignment bypassing the current highway that passes through Rajasthan and Gujarat. Can you elaborate on that?
A. The most interesting thing is this is the highway which is going from the backward area of Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. This will start from Delhi. It goes to Jaipur Ring Road; from the Ring Road, it goes to Alwar, from Alwar to Sawai Madhopur. Sawai Madhopur to Vadodara in Gujarat. And Vadodara to Mumbai.
The first time, the land acquisition cost, just for example, from Mumbai to Delhi, the present road is Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara. We calculated that cost comes to Rs 7 crore per hectare. But now, because of this new alignment, the cost is coming to Rs 70-80 lakh per hectare. We save Rs 16,000 crore on land acquisition and we are going to reduce the Delhi-Mumbai distance by 125 km. Out of which, Vadodara to Mumbai, all packages, already we tendered and giving appointment dates. So, projects of Rs 45,000 crore within 15 days, we will start. So, alignment is now in the final stage, we will start the land acquisition, but the other package, we will start the work. It is not my commitment, but my target is to complete this project within three years. Let us see what happens.
Q. So effectively, by 2021 if all goes well, we should be able to travel by road from Delhi to Mumbai in 12 hours?
Q. You had also been pushing for electric mobility but the Niti Aayog had a completely different view. Where are we in the plan?
A. First of all, we do not have any differences with Niti Aayog. Actually, we are on the same line. We have started charging stations. In my own constituency in Nagpur, we have 200 electric cars and we have 20 charging stations. Now, electric bus, electric bike, electric auto rickshaw, everywhere the production is in very fast mode. And I am confident in due course of time, India will have bio-fuel, can be ethanol bike, ethanol auto rickshaw, ethanol buses, electric buses, then methanol biodiesel and bio-CNG. Now in Ganga, we have 100-125 biodigester where we get methane. And from methane, bifurcate methane from CO2, we get bio-CNG. So we are going to sign an agreement with Indian Oil to start making bio-CNG in every project and to run buses on bio-CNG.
Q. I will take you to a different topic now. In December, in Gujarat, the Prime Minister disembarked from a seaplane and it has been one of your pet projects. By when can we expect seaplanes to start commercial operations in India?
A. The airport authorities have to finalise the rules and regulations and they are in the final stages. After their decision, we will immediately call tenders.
Q. Your ministry calls it a seaplane and the Aviation Ministry has given another name for it. Who will be framing the regulations?
A. At present, the Aviation Ministry is preparing the rules and regulations. After that, there will be a joint coordination between the two ministries and we will start this project.
Q. Staying on this topic, an amphibious bus that was brought into Mumbai actually ran into serious opposition from environmentalists.
A. I don’t understand as a committee is there. Actually in Mumbai, due to traffic, a lot of pollution is there. By using the sea route, we can reduce the pollution. All over the world, there are all types of the catamaran, hovercraft, and seaplanes being used. I don’t understand why people are opposing it. Amphibious buses are being used in Vancouver, USA, Stockholm, Sweden, and Singapore.
Q. Can we expect seaplanes top start operations by December?
A. Yes, before December ends, we will start this venture and I am confident about it meeting this deadline.
Q. Which rivers or water bodies are you targeting to start operations?
A. There are a lot of opportunities in Ganga and Brahmaputra. We have 7,500 km of the seafront and 20,000 km of river length. There are also many dams and we can use all these. We can make a river or seaport and I feel there is a lot of untapped potentials there.
Q. You had also said that by March 2019, around 80-90 percent of the Ganga will be cleaned up. But if you travel to various parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it comes across as a very ambitious target. How confident are you about your goal?
A. For this reason, I decided to call a press conference on Ganga. Out of 189 projects, 47 projects are already completed. Only 5-10 projects may be there facing hurdles but they are in the process. So I am confident that by March 2019, at least 80 percent of Ganga will be clean.
Q. Including stretches like Kanpur?
A. In Kanpur, we are doing nine projects and in Patna, we are doing 11 projects. In Varanasi, we are doing 4-5 projects. Work is going on in all these projects.
Q. After the Dhola-Sadiya bridge, we also hear about a new 1,000 km expressway along the Brahmaputra’s north bank. Is it at DPR (detailed project report) stage. Any recent update on that project?
A. Yes, it is in process. We have already sanctioned projects worth than Rs 1.5 lakh crore for the North East. We have specially established the North East Road Construction Corporation and we are working at a brisk pace on it. There are some problems but we are giving highest priority for development of infrastructure in North East.
Q. You are also piloting the Rs 8 lakh crore Bharatmala project. Any major development on that front?
A. Up to the end of December, more than 50 percent of work will be done. Probably the first phase is of 24,000 km, with an estimated cost of Rs 7.5 lakh crore and I am confident that 50 percent of the project will be completed before the end of December.
Q. And the Sagarmala project?
A. In Sagarmala, we are expecting investment to the tune of Rs 16 lakh crore. Around Rs 4 lakh crore has been earmarked for port-road connectivity, port-rail connectivity, modernisation and mechanisation of port. We have completed a project worth Rs 1.3 lakh crore and are developing industrial clusters where there will be automobile cluster, petroleum cluster, furniture cluster, chemical clusters, five smart cities, etc. We are expecting investment to the tune of Rs 12 lakh crore, out of which we have started work more than Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Things are moving at a fast pace where we are expecting industrial investment in the port sector. It will be a great boost for employment generation in the country.
Q. This government has been battling criticism on the jobs creation front and all kinds of figures are being thrown around. Going by the implementation of infrastructure projects that you have listed out, by the sheer definition of infrastructure projects having strong multiplier effects of creating jobs, enough jobs should have been created in the infrastructure space. Do you have some data to share?
A. The construction equipment manufacturing industry has doubled its production and we have already awarded construction projects worth more than Rs 10 lakh crore. So we are creating jobs and I feel that at least 1 crore direct and indirect jobs have been created by my ministry.
Q. These jobs created over the last four years in various infrastructure projects have not been captured by the jobs data that has been put out by various agencies, isn't it?
A. We have already given all the details to the various agencies and have one report from IIT. When there is an investment of Rs 1,000 crore, it creates temporary jobs for one lakh people directly and indirectly. We are creating jobs for the youth and I am confident that my department will create at least one crore jobs.
Q. Your contribution in building the Mumbai-Pune highway is well known. In this context, which project would you like to be most remembered for?
A. The Delhi-Mumbai Express Highway is a big project and it is the first of the express highways in the country which entailed an investment of Rs 1 lakh crore. This project will benefit 5-6 states and it will be a great achievement for me. I can only give you the assurance that we will start work on this project before December-end.
Q. Assuming the NDA government gets a second term, would you like to continue with the same portfolio?
A. It is the privilege of the Prime Minister. But if he asks me, I will give my priority for this department because I have to fulfill my dreams.