The progress of a country is closely linked to the efficiency with which
it transports its man and material. A good transport system aids
economic growth by providing essential connectivity between available
resources, centres of production and the market. It is also a vital
factor in promoting balanced regional growth by ensuring the delivery of
goods and services to the last man in the remotest part of the country.
Despite having one of the most extensive transport networks in the
world, India has, for long, been plagued by very slow and inefficient
movement of passenger and freight. The sector is faced with many
challenges. The penetration of the transport network in remote areas and
difficult terrains is inadequate. Highways are narrow, congested, and
poorly maintained, leading to slow movement of traffic, valuable loss of
time and a heavy burden of pollution. Accidents are rampant , leading to
the loss of nearly 1.5 lakh lives every year. A very high percentage of
the freight moves on roads even though it has been established that this
is the costliest mode of transport, with the highest pollution burden.
Rail transport is cheaper and more environment friendly than road
transport, but the network is slow and inadequate, while the waterways
which are the cheapest and most environment friendly of the three are
grossly underdeveloped. The result of this unfavourable modal mix is
high logistics costs that make our goods non competitive in the
This narrative has, however, started changing since the last three four
years. The government has made it a major priority to build a world
class transport infrastructure in the country, that is cost effective,
easily accessible to everyone, safe, creates minimum load of pollutants
and relies on indigenous inputs to the maximum possible extent. This has
involved strengthening the available infrastructure by leveraging world
class technology, building new infrastructure and modernizing the
legislative framework to support this work. This has also involved
partnering with the private sector and creating and nurturing an
enabling environment for such partnership.
National highways constitute just two percent of the country’s road
network but carry 40 percent of the traffic load. The government is
working hard to augment this infrastructure both in terms of length and
quality. Having started with about 96,000 km of national highways in
2014, we now have over 1.5 kms and soon hope to reach 2 lakh kms. The
upcoming Bharatmala Programme will link border and international
connectivity roads, develop economic corridors, inter corridors and
feeder routes, improve connectivity of national corridors, build coastal
and port connectivity roads, and greenfield expressways. This means that
all areas of the country will have easy access to national highways.
The North East region, naxal affected areas, backward and interior areas
are being given special attention in terms of building road
connectivity. Bridges like the Dhola Sadia in Assam and state of the art
tunnels like Chenani Nashri in Jammu and Kashmir are coming up to
shorten distances in difficult terrains and make remote areas more
easily accessible. High density traffic corridors like the Vadodara-Mumbai,
Bangalore-Chennai and Delhi-Meerut routes can look forward to world
class, access controlled expressways, while travel to places of
religious and tourist importance like the Char Dham and the Buddhist
Circuit will get faster and more convenient.
Apart from adding kilometers, we are also committed to make the highways
safe for travel. For this, a multi-pronged approach has been adopted
that includes incorporating safety features in road designs, rectifying
known accident black spots, , proper road signages, more effective
legislation, improved vehicular safety standards, training of drivers,
improved trauma care and enhanced public awareness. Under the Setu
Bharatam programmes all railway level crossings are to be replaced with
over bridges or under passes and an inventory with structural rating of
all bridges on national highways is being created so that timely repair
or rebuilding actions can be undertaken.
The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha, and
awaits passing by Rajya Sabha. The Bill addresses road safety issues by
providing for stiffer penalties, making fitness certification of
vehicles and issue of drivers licenses transparent by computerizing it
and minimizing human intervention, statutory provisions for protection
of good Samaritans and recognition of IT enabled enforcement systems.
The issue of reducing pollution is being addressed through a programme
for replacement of old vehicles, adopting BS-VI emission norms from
1stApril 2020, developing plantations along highways by involving the
local participation and Electronic Toll Collection based on RFID tags
called FASTags that will reduce waiting time at toll plazas. The use of
alternate fuel like Ethanol, Bio-CNG, Bio-Diesel, Methanol and
electricity is being promoted and some of these are already running in
some cities on an experimental basis.
Looking at the cheaper and greener water transportation, efforts are
underway to utilize the navigational potential of India’s 7500 km long
coastline and over 14,000 km of inland waterways through the Sagarmala
programme and by declaring 111 waterways as National Waterways.
Sagarmala envisages developing ports as engines of growth. The idea is
to industrialize the port areas by developing 14 coastal economic zones.
This would be supported by modernization and augmentation of the port
infrastructure, improving connectivity of ports with the hinterland
through road, rail and waterways, and development of the coastal
community. It is expected that besides saving Rs 35000-Rs 40,000 crore
as logistics cost annually, boosting exports by about USD 110 billion
and generating one crore new jobs, Sagarmala will also double the share
of domestic waterways in the modal mix in the next ten years.
In addition to the above, work is already in progress on several
waterways including Ganga and Brahmaputra to develop their navigational
potential. The World Bank aided Jal Marg Vikas project on Ganga aims to
develop the river stretch from Haldia to Allahabad to allow navigation
of 1500-2000 tonne ships. Work on building multi modal terminals at
Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia and other necessary infrastructure on
this stretch is progressing rapidly. With this, much of the cargo
movement to the eastern and north eastern parts of the country can be
done through waterways, resulting in lowering of the price of
commodities. Thirty seven more waterways will be developed in the next
three years .
While the highways and waterways sectors are being modernized rapidly,
work is also underway for developing an integrated transport system
based on an optimal modal mix and seamless intermodal connectivity. In
this context a Logistic Efficiency Enhancement Programme (LEEP) has been
envisaged to enhance the efficiency of freight transportation in the
country. This would include construction of fifty economic corridors,
upgrading feeder routes, developing thirty-five multimodal logistics
parks with storage and warehousing facilities and constructing ten
inter-modal stations to integrate various transportation modes .
The transport sector in India is definitely transforming rapidly, and is
poised to become the biggest enabler for the country’s growth. As this
revolution unfolds over the Indian landscape, we can not only hope to
see the country developing faster, but also see the benefits of progress
embracing regions and people who are still out of its bounds today.
*The author is the Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways and
Govt of India.