Several pending issues were discussed at the Group on Infrastructure Meeting chaired by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways & Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday via webcast.
Union Minister for Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal; Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Information & Broadcasting and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises Prakash Javadekar; and Union Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways Gen (Retd) VK Singh participated in the meeting. Senior officers of the ministries of road transport & highways, railway, power, environment & forests as well as representatives from the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka were also present on the occasion.
A major issue raised in the meeting pertained to outstanding forest clearance for 187 highway projects. It was also noted that many projects had not yet applied for Stage-II forest clearance. The concerned officers were directed to initiate the process for the same immediately.
It was stressed in the meeting that level crossing on national highways needed to be removed as they constituted major accident spots. It was pointed out that while their designs had been approved at 167 locations, work hadn’t started. Since MoUs were signed in this regard over five years ago, there was a need to improve implementation. It was agreed to monitor the projects under the Setubharatam programme every month. It also was underlined that 30 road projects were pending with the Railways. However, the railway minister assured to resolve these within the next two days.
A major issue before infrastructure projects was the felling of trees and the ambiguity surrounding the inclusion of certain local breeds of shrubs and plants in the forest cover. The example of babool or kikar was cited in the meeting. This being an exotic Arabian shrub, its inclusion in the definition of trees was causing hindrance while considering forest clearance for several projects. In Delhi, an ambitious project monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Dwarka Expressway, was facing such 1,939 babool shrubs in a total of 6,364 trees. It was pointed out that several states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh excluded this shrub in their land revenue code as a tree.
Gadkari expressed his satisfaction over progress on outstanding issues by way of meetings between senior-level officers of various ministries. He observed that instead of wasting time and energy on written communications it was always worthwhile to sit together to sort out issues. He gave directions for a joint meeting to be held between Chairman Railway Board, Director General Forests and Director-General Roads.
Minister Javadekar was requested to direct the forest officers posted in states to follow and implement the circulars and orders issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Cabinet Committee. Special high-powered committees on forest issues could be conducted as was being done in the states of Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh. It was felt that this step would remove many hindrances in the way of infrastructure projects to save both time and money.
Goyal lauded the idea of this meeting and said it is a good initiative of Gadkari. He said, he also got to learn a lot from this experiment of all stakeholders sitting together for thrashing out the issues before them. He requested Gadkari to guide the Group on Infrastructure on the steps to improve citizen’s cause. He said, rail and highway projects should ideally run parallel to each other, however, due to differences in gradients, they sometimes part away. But, together these two bodies could build many projects.
Gen (Retd) V K Singh said, the meeting was fruitful. He said, the infra sector was the backbone of the economy, and its speed decided the speed of other sectors. He called upon infra professionals to improve their procedures to enhance the pace of their projects. He opined that the railway and highway sectors should make combined projects to save costs and to improve usability.