History provides eloquent testimony — if any was needed — that empires rise, flourish and flounder and that connectivity and logistics invariably provide part, if not all, of the explanation, for the same. Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka built highways along an ancient route called Uttarapatha in the 3rd century BC. Sher Shah Suri expanded on this network in the 16th century and rebuilt this ancient path of commerce.
The 190 years of British colonial domination has its own story. Yes, they did build railways, ports and bridges, but mainly to mine out wealth from India and ship it to England or export raw cotton and import cloth made in the mills of Lancashire and Manchester. The British left behind a disorganised patchwork of bureaucratic silos, the rail system built by them providing a good example. Their organisations were designed to be commandeered for the imperial exploitation of India rather than synergetic nation-building.
Under Congress rule, this fractionated style of policy-making and execution would hold back the economic development of India, leading to unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities. New infrastructure development was less than comprehensive, and even then chaotically executed. We became used to signboards saying “work in progress, go slow”, as different government departments would work without coordination — for example, digging up newly laid roads for laying utility and optical fibre cables.
The Prime Minister’s Gati Shakti plan is a bold step in changing the status of the progress of the nation from “go slow” to “go fast”. Over the past seven years, our government has taken giant strides in simplifying and integrating disparate policies and procedures to accelerate development.
GST simplified the taxation of goods and services while Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mudra brought in instant Direct Benefit Transfer into bank accounts. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, UDAN, Jal Marg Vikas, industrial and freight corridors, the Bharatmala and Sagarmala projects have given a big boost to the infrastructure and industrial prowess of the country.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, we rolled out One Nation One Ration Card, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission and Aatmanirbhar Bharat mission. We have been able to formulate, mass-produce, transport, administer and follow-up 1 billion doses of a temperature-sensitive novel vaccine.
Indian consumers today enjoy same-day or next-day deliveries on e-commerce platforms and the time has come for the government to deliver to these standards. The Indian logistics sector, already a $200 billion market, is set to grow at over 10 per cent CAGR in the next five years to reach around $330 billion and power a $-5 trillion economy. However, the cost of Indian logistics remains high at 13-14 per cent of GDP compared to developed nations where they are 8-10 per cent.
India’s modal mix is heavily skewed towards roads, with 60-65 per cent of transport happening via road compared to 25-30 per cent in developed countries, prompting higher costs. The rail freight business depends excessively on coal and domestic waterways face numerous challenges due to high first- and last-mile costs, unavailability of return load in most cases, high voyage costs for specialised vessels and high repositioning costs of domestic containers, among others.
The PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan will herald a new era of infrastructure development and multi-modal logistics. We will synergise infrastructure development projects from multiple ministries under one masterplan. We will be able to optimise different modes of logistics to reduce freight costs and increase competitiveness, drive investment and create millions of jobs. We will leverage technology and geospatial mapping to create an online dashboard, which will let central and state agencies, departments and PSUs as well as private players have a bird’s eye view of each other’s planned development throughout the country.
We have come a long way in seven years. Highway construction per day in India increased almost 300 per cent from 12 km/day in 2014-15 to 33.7 km/day in 2020-21. With the PM Gati Shakti Masterplan, we will increase India’s highway network to 2 lakh km and provision utility corridors for laying adjoining power and optical fibre cables, which will be a life-saver in times of natural disasters.
Under the NDA government, India embarked on an unprecedented scale of infrastructure development spending almost Rs 11.5 lakh crore in the seven years compared to just 1.5 lakh crore spent in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014. The metro rail network has been expanded up to 721 km of metro lines in 18 cities from 250 km in 2014, and a network of 1,058 km is under construction in 27 cities. The Masterplan will further augment urban infrastructure development by streamlining planning and approvals, and integrating civic amenities.
We have been working hard to increase the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix to 15 per cent from the current 7 per cent, as natural gas is not only a cleaner source of energy but is also efficiently transported through pipelines. Since 2014, India has increased the length of its gas pipeline network from 14,700 km to 18,500 km, supplying 29 mmscmd gas to thermal and steel plants, and 44 mmscmd gas to fertiliser plants. Under PM Gati Shakti, an additional 15,000 km of gas pipelines will be integrated.
It is difficult to fully visualise the sheer scale of development and investments planned under the PM Gati Shakti Masterplan. It will be an inflection point in the history of our nation. It will transform Indian infrastructure and logistics to compete with the world’s leading economies. Future generations will look back and remark at an India before PM Gati Shakti Masterplan and an India after it.
The writer is Union Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas, and Housing & Urban Affairs