Getting up-to-speed with the Infrastructure Czar of India

Getting up-to-speed with the Infrastructure Czar of India
Getting up-to-speed with the Infrastructure Czar of India

Nitin Gadkari is arguably one of the most target-oriented ministers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet and his achievements speak for themselves. Turning around a country's creaking infrastructure was not an envious task to take on and he has simply let his actions do all the talking. One of the success stories of the Narendra Modi government in India has been in its promotion of physical connectivity. Two ministers have been central to this endeavour: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and Nitin Gadkari. Gadkari is simultaneously minister for road transport and highways, and for shipping and ports. In the normal course these would be separate ministries, under different ministers. In combining them, Prime Minister Modi showed boldness and sought to leverage the related advantages and links of surface and maritime transport. In executing this mission with decided effectiveness, Gadkari has not only given India a new transport and cargo paradigm, he has also emerged as the infrastructure czar of this government. Gadkari is a former BJP president and was once gently mentioned, in the period before the Modi juggernaut swept aside all opposition, as a possible prime ministerial candidate. That speculation was due to his political goodwill and his relations with the RSS top brass, based as it happens in his native city of Nagpur. Today, almost two years into the BJP government's term, Gadkari's executive role is being praised not for political connections but for performance. As minister he has:

  • Revitalised the National Highways programme, with a record 6,029 km of highway constructed in 2015-16. The current year (2016-17) promises to be even better
  • Sought to revamp laws and rules relating to road safety and traffic accidents, drunken and risky driving, issuing drivers' licences and registering cars at India's notoriously corrupt and inefficient network of road transport authorities
  • Inaugurated the ambitious Sagarmala project, an initiative to modernise, rebuild or completely build some 150 ports or port-linked facilities along India's 7,500 km coastline. This is the most daring such project in Indian history and when completed in 10 years could save Rs 35,000 crore in logistics costs. It has the potential to create 10 million jobs, direct and indirect
  • Introduced new legislation and plans for an inland waterways programme that will make India's rivers, including the iconic Ganga, ready for large passenger and cargo vessels and restore to the rivers their original role of water highways of commerce. The inspiration is what Europe has achieved with the Danube and, more recently, what China has managed with river-based transport.
This set of achievements has made Gadkari one of the stand-out performers of the Modi government. It is all the more remarkable because his only previous executive experience was as minister in the Maharashtra state government in the 1990s, where admittedly he carved a reputation for himself by pushing ahead with some well-regarded highway and urban roads projects. In New Delhi since May 2014 he has been a pioneer among Modi government ministers in learning to negotiate with and get the better of India's astoundingly obdurate bureaucracy. All this has given Gadkari the image of a doer, somebody who is actually translating words into action. The public spending thrust his policies are expected to give in 2016-17 could help kick-start internal demand and be just the trigger the Indian economy needs.
Ashok Malik, Senior Columnist
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