“American roads are good not because America is rich. America is rich because American roads are good.” Framed prominently on a wall in the office of Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, this famous quote by former US president John F Kennedy is the first thing that meets the eye as you walk in. The Minister never tires of repeating these golden words to emphasise the importance of road infrastructure in the Indian economy.
Gadkari, who also holds the Shipping, Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation portfolios, is seen as a star performer in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government. Ever since he took charge in 2014, he has totally turned around the transport infrastructure sector that was plagued by a myriad maladies. Stalled highways projects worth Rs. 1 lakh crore have been revived. The pace of highways“ construction has more than doubled under his leadership. From a construction rate of just about 12 km per day in 2014-15, the rate has reached 27 km a day during 2017-18. Gadkari has set a target of accelerating the pace further to 40 km per day during 2018-19.
The award and construction of highways during these four years has been higher than ever before. Mega projects like Bharatmala and Sagarmala, modern, access controlled expressways like the best in the world, preparing waterways as the alternate mode of transport, bear testimony to a transport revolution rapidly unfolding on the Indian landscape. Good governance initiatives like innovative financing models, streamlining of land acquisition process, coordinated efforts to address environment and other inter ministerial issues – all steered by Gadkari’s active and visionary leadership – have combined to produce these phenomenal results.
The Making of Roadkari
After BJP’s stunning victory in the 2014 general elections, Gadkari was assigned charge of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Shipping – a charge very close to his heart. His tryst with the sector began in 1995 when he took over as PWD Minister of Maharashtra in the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government. The passion grew as he built one mega project after the other – Mumbai-Pune Expressway, 55 flyovers in Mumbai, Bandra-Worli Sea Link, (for which he performed the ground breaking ceremony) and a R700 crore rural connectivity project to provide all-weather road link to 13,736 remote villages, which had remained unconnected even so many years after independence. It was neither prior familiarity with the sector nor specific domain knowledge that drove him. He just wanted to give the best to his people. Transport infrastructure can be the biggest enabler for socio-economic growth and he wanted to provide this to his fellow citizens. In his own words:
“I am not an engineer, I don’t have any expertise in civil engineering. I developed an interest in roads during my tenure in Maharashtra. Roads are now my passion. In fact, late Bal Thackeray gave me the nickname “Roadkari.”
Gadkari’s stint as Maharashtra PWD Minister also established his excellent governance skills. The mega projects built under his leadership got completed much before the stipulated completion dates and at costs much less than prior estimates.
Gadkari says, “With R5 crore equity, I earned the distinction of completing works worth Rs. 8,000 crore.”
Pioneering Expressways and Waterways In his present role Gadkari has embarked on a journey of creating a network of national highways and expressways across the country under the ambitious Bharatmala project.
This umbrella programme for the highways sector that aims to optimise the efficiency of road traffic movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps. Special attention has been paid to fulfilling the connectivity needs of areas of economic activity, places of religious and tourist interest, border areas, backward and tribal areas, coastal areas and trade routes with neighbouring countries under the programme. Multi-modal integration is one of the key focuses of this programme.
Around 53,000 km of NHs have been identified to improve National Corridor efficiency, of which 24,800 km are to be taken up in Phase-I, which will be implemented over a period of five years, i.e., 2017-18 to 2021-22 in a phased manner. This includes 5,000 km of the National Corridors, 9,000 km of Economic Corridors, 6,000 km of Feeder Corridors and lnter-Corridors, 2,000 km of Border Roads, 2,000 km of Coastal Roads and Port Connectivity Roads and 800 km of Green-field Expressways. Total likely fund provision for Bharatmala Phase-I is Rs. 5,35,000 crore.
Seven expressway projects are planned to be constructed in the first phase of Bharatmala. These are:
- Delhi-Jaipur Expressway
- Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway
- Vadodara-Mumbai Expressway
- Hyderabad-Vijayawada-Amaravati (HVA) Expressway
- Nagpur-Hyderabad-Bangalore (NBH) Expressway
- Kanpur-Lucknow (KL) Expressway
- Ring road / Expressway at Amaravati
Bridges and tunnels are being built in many places to shorten distances and bring the hitherto remote and inaccessible areas within easy reach. The Bhupen Hazarika Bridge over River Brahmaputra in Assam; the Chenani Nashri Tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir; and, the Kota Bridge over Chambal are just a few examples.
In order to develop ports as engines of growth Gadkari brought in the Sagarmala programme. Sagarmala envisages industrialising ports areas so that they become engines of growth. There is a thrust on setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and 12 Coastal Economic Zones around Major Ports. In addition there are projects for modernising ports so that they become more efficient and profitable, enhancing connectivity of ports with the hinterland through road, rail and waterways and preparing the local population with necessary skills and infrastructure for the job opportunities that will open up. He has also got 111 waterways declared as National Waterways and is developing them for navigation. Water transport is cheaper than road and rail transport and also less polluting.
Innovative Funding Mechanisms When Gadkari took the job of building Mumbai-Pune Expressway and flyovers in Mumbai in the late 1990s, raising fund was a big challenge. The situation was even tougher in 2014, when he was given the responsibility for accelerating road projects across the country. On both these occasions Gadkari came out with unconventional, out of-the-box solutions. As Maharashtra’s PWD minister in late 1990s Gadkari introduced Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model. Mumbai-Pune Expressway was the first major Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project. The BOT model introduced by Gadkari in late 1990s has been widely replicated across the country for construction of various infrastructure projects.
When Gadkari took over as Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways in 2014 the challenges were far more complex. Private investments were depressed and majority of the highway projects in the country were stalled. It was a big challenge to revive those projects. Private firms needed additional support. Gadkari again came out with an innovative solution in the form of Hybrid Annuity Model, which has lesser risk for the private players.
Gadkari was also instrumental behind introducing India’s first asset monetisation project, Toll-Operate-Transfer. “I have realised one thing: if your cause is good, there is no dearth of money,” says Gadkari emphasising that funding constraints would not come in the way of highways development.
Innovative infrastructure bonds have been introduced to raise funds for highways. NHAI launched an issue of Masala Bonds at the London Stock Exchange in May 2017. The Masala Bond saw an overwhelming response from a wide spectrum of investors. The initial benchmark issue of Rs.1,500 crore was upsized to Rs.3,000 crore.
Multi Modal Transport System
Gadkari is also instrumental in resetting India’s logistics sector from a “point-to-point” model to a “hub-and-spoke” model. The new model called Multi Modal Transport System involves railways, highways, inland waterways and airports to put in place an effective transportation grid. The objective is to make freight transportation in the country more efficient by facilitating the use of a favourable modal mix of transport, thereby reducing logistics costs and also pollution. This is proposed to be done by developing 35 multi-modal logistics parks to serve as centres for freight aggregation and distribution, multi-modal transportation, storage, warehousing and value-added services, besides construction of 50 Economic Corridors, upgrading key feeder and inter corridor routes and constructing 10 inter-modal stations to integrate various transportation modes.
“This is for the first time we have taken an integrated approach for the country’s transportation. This will increase India’s exports, provide employment opportunities, will be cost effective and will make goods cheaper in the country,” Gadkari told MINT.
To get different stakeholders on board the Minister organised a summit called ‘India Integrated Transport and Logistics Summit’ in May 2017. The response was overwhelming. Around 3,000 delegates from India and abroad, which included central and state government organisations, multilaterals like the World Bank and ADB, global transport and supply-chain experts and representatives of private companies took part in the summit. Thirty-four MoUs amounting to about Rs.2 lakh crore were signed.
Nitin Gadkari started his political journey as a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad (ABVP) and went on to occupy the highest position of President in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Gadkari was born in 1957, in a middle-class agricultural family of Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He has been inspired by the ideologies of RSS in early life and is seen today as one of the strongest links between RSS and the BJP.
At the age of 24, Gadkari was elected as the Nagpur City President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). In 1985, he became Secretary of BJP Nagpur City and worked relentlessly to strengthen the party organisation in urban and rural areas of the district. At the age of 32, Nitin Gadkari successfully contested elections to Maharashtra Legislative Council from Nagpur Division Graduates Constituency, spread over five districts. He repeated his successful performance four consecutive times in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. Notably, he was elected unopposed in 2002.
Gadkari’s success in the legislative politics runs parallel with his organisational achievements in BJP. At the age of 35, he became the General Secretary of BJP in Maharashtra. Under his leadership the party organisation spread its influence all over the state. The party’s spectacular victory in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation elections in 1992, established his organisation prowess beyond doubt. At the age of 38, he was inducted in the Maharashtra Cabinet. Gadkari was also the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council from 1999-2005. He headed the Maharashtra Pradesh BJP as the State President till 2009 when he was elevated to the position of the BJP National President to become the youngest ever party President.
In the 2014 general elections, Gadkari got elected to the Lok Sabha from Nagpur in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, a traditional Congress stronghold, defeating seven times winner Vilas Muttemwar by a margin of about three lakh votes. Under his dynamic supervision and able guidance, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine won 42 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra, including all the ten seats in the Vidarbha region for the first time since independence.
Gadkari does not consider himself to be a career politician. He sees politics as a means for social service – initiating projects for the poor, society and the downtrodden.
Good and able governance have been Gadkari’s hallmark in both his stints – as PWD Minister in Maharashtra and his present position as a Union Minister. Innovative funding models, administrative and policy reforms aimed at streamlining rules and procedures, inter-departmental co-ordination and efficient monitoring mechanisms pushed by him have resulted in spectacular results that his sector has posted. He has taken the initiative to weed out old rules and bring in new and relevant ones in his sector. He is taking major steps to reduce fatalities due to road accidents by making safer road and automobile engineering, legislation, awareness generation and post-trauma care. He is taking steps to reduce pollution from the transport sector by pushing for alternative fuel. The imprint of an able administrator is all over the road and shipping sector.
Praise from Friends and Adversaries Gadkari has earned praises from friends and adversaries alike for his simplicity and ability to deliver. Appreciating his contributions to the country’s infrastructure development and strengthening of the party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Nitin ji has made a mark as an effective administrator with a key role in creating next-generation infrastructure for India. His work for the BJP organisation has been extensive and valuable.”
Gadkari has consistently been the top performing minister of the Modi cabinet, both in internal performance review and media surveys. “If a prize had to be given to the most effective ministers in the Narendra Modi-led government, with the focus on those in-charge of what one might call the ‘executive’ rather than ‘policy’ or purely ‘administrative’ ministries, the first would probably have to be given to Nitin Gadkari, the man in-charge of road transport and highways. He has been a bundle of energy and ideas and delivered on the ground,” senior journalist T N Ninan wrote in Business Standard on the eve of completion of four years of Modi Government. He argued that, “It is no mean achievement to have more than doubled the speed of highway construction over the past four years, after having inherited a landscape pockmarked by stalled projects and disputes over PPP contracts.” Building 27 km of highways every day, as is said to have been done in 2017-2018, is equivalent to building the Delhi-Jaipur highway in 10 days flat or other equivalent stretches like Bengaluru-Chennai and Kolkata-Jamshedpur in similar time.
Gadkari takes note of all recommendations and requests from MPs irrespective of their party and acts upon them in a totally professional and impartial manner. Opposition MPs rarely praise the work of a minister. However, Gadkari is among the few ministers who have got praises of opposition MPs in Parliament. Leader of Congress Party in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has praised the work of Gadkari. Participating in a debate on The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha, Kharge had said, “He (Gadkari) is performing well. He has extended roads and highways.”
Heaping praise on Gadkari Congress Party MP K C Venugopal said, “I would like to state that in the Narendra Modi Government, a few ministers are performing well. Among them is Shri Nitin Gadkari.”
According to Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Tathagata Satpathy, Gadkari is a “hard working person” who is hell bent on proving that good work can be done even if the government is bad. “Even in the darkest of night, a single star looks bright,” Satpathy said, while praising Gadkari.
Roads act as big GDP multipliers. They are the biggest enablers for socio-economic growth. Highways and road construction have been among the top achievements of Modi Government. The credit for this goes to Nitin Gadkari. No doubt this will make Gadkari a ‘poster boy’ for the 2019 general election.