If infrastructure projects are not completed on time as is happening now, their benefits are all but negated.
Infrastructure is the key to development — this is a no-brainer. Yet, for reasons known only to themselves, the political leadership and bureaucracy have been sitting on key infrastructure projects and missing their completion deadlines. According to news reports, even the first six of the 17 key projects that had been identified by the Prime Minister’s Office — spanning aviation, power and the highways sectors — have missed their deadlines despite a tight six-month schedule set for successive targets. Such delays will only dent the country’s image further even as the government struggles to steady the economy. Moreover, infrastructure projects have long gestation periods.
It was only in June that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) with the mandate to track large infrastructure projects worth Rs 1,000 crore or more. The PMG, which started meeting every week since July 2, is supposed to fast track all stalled projects by resolving disputes. While setting up the PMG was a bold initiative, it may be a case of too little, too late. Currently, 219 infrastructure sector projects worth Rs 10.47 lakh crore are registered with the PMG. The panel has cleared 31 projects worth Rs 1.02 lakh crore that were held up for a year or more. While it is true that projects do face their fair share of hurdles — land acquisition, environmental clearance and signing of fuel supply agreements (for power plants) — many of these issues can be solved if ministries stop working in silos. For example, after waiting for a year, a highway project developer in Orissa sent a termination notice to the National Highway Authority of India. It was later found out that the project had got clearance from the ministry of environment and forests but the file did not reach the ministry of roads and highways on time.
Infrastructure projects may take a long time to complete, but if they don’t stick to a schedule, then the costs overruns cancel out much of the intended benefits.