The Planning Commission got its worst criticism on Monday from Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath, who described it as an “armchair” advisory body far fetched from “ground realities”.
Nath, in his 15-minutes diatribe, accused it of delaying road construction projects in presence of panel’s deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who did not react.
His advisor Gajendra Haldea, however, thanked Nath for an “inspirational” speech but defended the commission saying the panel had been behind many infrastructure success stories such as new international terminal at Indira Gandhi Airport. Haldea heads the infrastructure secretariat in the panel.
“Our intervention in the Public Private Partnership for the airport was upheld by the Supreme Court,” he said, minutes after Nath said the terminal was completed on time as the panel had nothing to do with it.
The panel had criticised ministry for slow pace of national highway development projects and had even said that it would achieve only of two kms a day against a target of 20, as stipulated by Nath.
“Planning commission has no performance targets for itself. Sitting here, it is easy for them (panel officials) to pass judgement,” he said at the conference on infrastructure organised by the panel. “You (panel) can produce any kind of paper but producing a road is a different ball game. It is not good to be an armchair advisor.”
The panel officials described the charge unfounded, saying their job was to ensure government property was not given to private parties without prescribing enough safeguards. “Even the courts have said that we were right, not the ministry,” an official said.
Nath was also expressed his opposition to Ahluwalia, who had earlier suggested there should be a standard model concession agreement for Public Private Partnership projects in the road sector to improve efficiency. “There cannot be same standard for road construction project in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh as ground realities are quite different,” he said.