In a move to quicken the decision-making process, the road ministry has asked for the power to approve most highway projects without going to the cabinet.
Road minister Nitin Gadkari’s proposal follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion at a recent meeting that departments should not come to the cabinet at the drop of a hat and instead, take decisions at the ministerial level.
In its proposal sent to the finance ministry last week, Gadkari sought power for his ministry to approve expansion/upgradation of existing highways irrespective of the cost involved. In case of new road projects, the ministry has proposed that cabinet approval should be required only for those costing more than Rs. 1,000 crore. Currently, cabinet approval is required for all such highway projects.
Instead of going to the cabinet, the ministry has suggested that a committee headed by road secretary should be empowered to take a decision.
At a time when highways development had slowed down with projects worth Rs. 180,000 crore stuck in disputes, a road ministry official said the proposal, if approved, would go a long way in bringing the momentum back in the sector.
“The entire process for seeking approval for highway projects is time consuming and cumbersome. If the ministry is empowered to approve expansion work on brownfield (existing) projects it will fast track award of projects,” said an official.
“Gadkariji, try clearing projects at your own level,” government sources quoted Modi telling the minister at a cabinet meeting last month.
Finance ministry officials, however, aren’t comfortable with the idea. “There should be adequate checks and balances before big ticket highway projects get approved,” said an official.
Last year, the cabinet committee on economic affairs had empowered the highways ministry to approve public-funded projects worth up to Rs. 500 crore.