Last year, roads and highways was the “happening” sector, with a lot of hype and commendable action. Against a target of national highways that turned out to be beyond ambitious, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had only completed construction of 1,156 km by December 2010 at 4.28 km per day-way less than the targeted 7 km-per-day. It was a genuine learning experience for our young infra-nation, and Minister Kamal Nath announced late last year that the target was unrealistic and had to be scaled down. So how does an encore of the quantum outlay this year (Rs 48,293 crore) and a new minister in place hope to accomplish what a preceding year and minister could not? Considering that the same (fundraising, state participation and other) issues are likely to continue this year and other parameters remain unchanged, what can project managers do to boost the construction of roads? One obvious answer would be better project management for more efficient completion of projects and therefore quicker turnarounds. However, chances are that we may settle down to understand the pace at which infrastructure can be built in our country.
Similarly, the power sector has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the current fiscal. Not only was the generation target not achieved, but not much was concretely done in containing T&D losses. Year after year, the sector has not utilised the outlay. Yet the power infrastructure has not kept pace with the agenda. The outlay was revised in 2010-11 and dropped a steep 22 per cent, commensurate with the failure of the ministry to achieve the targets. Yet this year, there is a 42 per cent increase in its outlay. Surely someone up there is optimistic.
Our maritime sector is the new kid on the block this year. The budgetary outlay for ports (Rs 2,544 crore) is a healthy 35 per cent over the last outlay. Yet the feeling in the industry is that the Budget was hardly buoyed by the fresh-off-the-oven Maritime Agenda 2020 (MA 2020). On the other hand, the shipping and ports industries are already looking forward to some excitement. For example, inland, coastal and river-sea transport is set to develop the hinterlands and connect them better to the ports seamlessly. Again, much would depend on how the ports and shipping industries take the bull by its horns in ramping up port efficiencies, including better handling and turnaround time, warehousing facilities and so on, as well as in aggressive use of land. Our cover story makes a special mention of the fact that the shipping ministry believes that of all the items in the MA 2020 document, land availability and its dexterous employment would be a defining portion. The shipping ministry is going the same way as the power sector, where Power Finance Corporation has been largely successful in its dynamism to make finance available to the sector. Similarly, the shipping ministry will raise Rs 5,000 crore via tax-free bonds through the Maritime Finance Corporation, to be set up under the Agenda 2020. Budget 2011-12 has already allowed the ports sector to raise this money by way of issuing tax-free bonds.
As our experts say, the Budget has brought cheer in terms of building an environment of optimism for the infra-sectors. However, it still seems as though the Budget and ministry goals are not talking to each other, because of which there may be many a slip between the cup and the lip.