HTLS 2020: ‘No real Covid impact on highway projects’, says Nitin Gadkari
The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has not had an impact on the progress of any national highways work, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Friday, adding that the road transport and highways ministry continued awarding new projects through the public health crisis.
The minister for road transport & highways, and micro, small & medium enterprises also said that the government plans to increase the contribution of MSMEs to the Indian economy from 30% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 40% in five years.
Giving details of proactive measures taken by the government to infuse adequate liquidity into construction firms, and providing amenities to labourers, Gadkari said at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit that “there is no impact of Covid on our projects” and cited as examples several ongoing construction activities across the country.
“We are working for the nation, these projects are ornaments to the nation [and] we must complete projects within the scheduled time,” he said.
Gadkari said that ensuring working capital requirement to the contractor was important, particularly for road construction.
“This has been streamlined by re-scheduling and fast-tracking payment cycle, thereby releasing more than ₹8,000 crore,” he said.
“We immediately released [the money]... because of that liquidity, the contractor and the investor actually got opportunity to invest more in road sector,” he said, giving details of the actions taken in the last six months.
“Large financial relief package to the existing partners in construction and maintenance stages of road sector has been given to cope with the financial and logistic issues faced due to lockdowns and slowing down of the economy.”
Gadkari also said there was no need to give “artificial push” to popularise electric vehicles (EVs) because they inherently had advantages to catch the imagination of the people as they were environment-friendly and significantly cost-efficient. He added that the running cost of EV buses was almost one-third of that of diesel buses. Costs of EVs’ batteries were a dissuading factor earlier, but now their costs have also come down significantly, he added.
“We are already giving priority to public transport system on electricity and we are now developing special electric buses as well as we are now encouraging cable-trolley buses — two buses, joined buses — and electric double-decker buses... Now we are also planning to take a pilot project on Delhi-Mumbai corridor... where we are planning to make [an] e-highway,” he said.
On MSMEs, he said the sector was adversely hit by Covid-19 and a subsequent lockdown, but the government’s stimulus package helped it tremendously to bounce back.
A ₹3 lakh crore Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) was one of the key components of the ₹20 lakh crore economic stimulus package under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan launched in mid-May which offers additional working capital finance in the form of a term loan to MSMEs and professionals.
“I’m very happy that ₹1.60 lakh crore disbursement is already given. Now also we have taken lot of decisions by which we are again giving [incentives] to MSMEs,” he said. ECLGS offers additional working capital finance of 20% of the outstanding credit as of February 29, 2020 in the form of a term loan to units with up to ₹25 crore outstanding and revenue of up to ₹250 crore.
He said support to MSMEs was ongoing and the government was helping smaller units, particularly in rural, tribal and agriculture sectors. “We are encouraging village industry,” he said, adding that the present turnover of the village industry was ₹80,000 crore and the target was to make it ₹5 lakh crore in two years.
He said the MSMEs’ contribution to the GDP was 30%, and 48% to exports.
“My target is to [take its] GDP contribution up to 40% from 30% and from 48% exports, we are planning to make it 60% and at the same time create 5 crore [50 million] new jobs,” he said.
The minister said that the government was taking various measures to ensure safety and security on roads. He spoke about the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, that led to a 20% decrease in road accidents and deaths after it was introduced.
He also said that he expected the traffic deaths to halve from the current figures in the next five years. The legislation has raised fines significantly for breaking traffic rules such as driving without licence and insurance, riding two-wheelers without wearing helmets or four-wheelers without seat belts, and carrying more passengers than a vehicle’s capacity. A portal is being developed for real-time updates on blind spots on highways to prevent accidents, he said. “Road accidents and deaths have reduced by almost 20%,” he added.
He said the government will make FASTag mandatory within two-three months.