July 15, 2019
Saugata Roy speaks on the Demands for Grants under the control of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways
Sir, I rise to speak on the budget for Road Transport and Highways. The Minister is not here but I am told that he has a reputation for doing good work, so much so that the Prime Minister has asked him to shift his family from Nagpur to Delhi, so that he can work more. I don’t know if he would keep his family in Nagpur or in Delhi, that is, close to the RSS headquarters to close to Prime Minister Modi, but I hope he will deliver.
Though we talk a lot about highways, we must remember that highways constitute only 1.9 per cent of Indian roads; 70 per cent of India has rural roads. So though highways receive a lot of publicity they do not constitute the majority of roads in India. But still, the highways carry 40 per cent of the traffic and freight. So highways do have importance.
Of the total budget of the department, not the full amount is allocated for highways. Out of the budget of Rs 83,000 crore given this year, Rs 36,690 crore is for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Help is also provided to the States to develop their roads. Maintenance of the highways is done only by the State Governments. The highways sector is surviving by way of extra-budgetary allocations. The sector is dependent on loans and internal extra-budgetary resources. This year, after the Rs 36,690 crore, the fund-raising will amount to Rs 75,000 crore. Sir, you’d be happy to learn that the State Bank of India has given Rs 25,000 crore to the NHAI.
My fear is that the Government is taking a lot of loans and raising a lot of market borrowings. Whether these loans would ultimately become NPAs if the projects are not completed?
Sir, the major problem in our roads is that, in building roads first we face the financial crunch, lack of resources. We also have problems with acquiring lands, paying off compensations. We have problems with forest clearance, environment clearance. So these all takes a lot of time. There is no doubt that the Minister has tried to clear some of these cobwebs in road construction and he is promising to build 30 km of roads per day. But, in the past we have fallen behind our target, which is why I ask the Ministry to speed up road construction in the country.
The government has taken a very very ambitious programme called the ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’. It involves Rs 3.85 lakh crore and total expenditure for all the unfinished works is Rs 6.92 lakh crore. This is supposed to be completed by 2022. Now, out of this Rs 2.27 lakh crore will come from fuel cess, Rs 60,000 crore from budgetary support, monetising the toll-operating transfer given to private parties will raise Rs 34,000 crores; Rs 46,000 crore will come from toll collection and the government will borrow Rs 2.09 lakh crore.
Again ‘Bharatmala’ involves a very large borrowing for which the government has to ensure that it will be able to raise the money ultimately, because private investment is estimated at Rs 1.06 lakh crore but private investment has been slow to come to the government. Private investment has been very tardy and you see the Adanis, they want to take the airports over, but they have not invested in road infrastructure. You look at Ambanis, they have not invested in road infrastructure. Private sector wants the government to build the infrastructure and they want to take advantage of built-up infrastructure. They are not investing in a big way in the roads, so far.
Sir, though we talk of PPP it is mainly budgetary support, loan from banks and other sources and market borrowing. It is not coming from the private sector. But we need more roads there is no doubt about it and Bharatmala Pariyojana has many components. They include economic corridors component, inter corridor and federal development, national corridor efficiency improvement, border roads and international connectivity, coastal roads and port connectivity, Greenfields, expressways. Now all these separate items taken together takes Bharatmala to 24,800 km at a cost of Rs 3.85 lakh. We would be very happy if Bharatmala is completed.
The first major step in road building was taken during Vajpayee Government in 1998. 5895 crore of golden quadrilateral and north to south and east to west roads, that has been completed. It was an achievement but now this present scheme is much more ambitious and we need clearances from that, only national sources will not be enough.
Sir, having said this let me point out the main problems. One, is that in West Bengal there is an NH34 which is lifeline from the south to the north of the state. NH34 has not been completed in ten years. The Krishnanagar Behrampore states is incomplete and in a bad way. The NH34 which goes up to North Bengal, there also the work has not started at all. I would like the Minister to see that West Bengal has very little National Highways. National Highway 1 and 2 are of short length in the state, NH34 is the main thing they should complete the work in time.
Having said this, I would say that the main problem today is safety on the highways. You saw the accident on Yamuna Expressway on July 8; 29 people were killed and many were injured when the bus fell 40 feet into a ditch. Sir, you know that Yamuna Expressway is now called the killer expressway because 700 people have died in 5000 accidents in the last seven years. So far the Central Government has not been able to take effective steps. Gadkhari Ji also admitted in the morning his inability to control the accidents.
There are many ideas to improve road safety. An MoU was signed with the transport of London for a quality based ranking system for toll plazas, driving license, competent driving training centres etc but I want to know from the Minister that what concrete steps should be taken to improve safety? I agree that the Centre even the Motor Vehicles Act won’t be able to ensure safety, the Centre has to do hand holding with the state governments to ensure that they take proper steps to ensure the safety of the passengers. It’s a big thing today that we are building highways and people are dying in large numbers in traffic accidents on the highway; the modern things are not there.
Lastly, Sir I want to say that compared to our size, India has sizeable high roads. USA boasts to be the world’s largest who is followed by China and India. So we are a bigger country. Our road network is bigger compared to Brazil, Australia, Russia and other countries. But we cannot compare with USA. They have a highway in Texas which has 26 lanes. Our biggest expressway is the Delhi-Meerut expressway which has got 14 lanes so we have to improve both the technology and the safety. The Minster has spoken about Rs 14,000 crores for ensuring safety. I do not know how he says this, where will the money come from? He is only going to the market to borrow money. Money is not coming, where is that 14,000 crore? Where is it going to come from? He has spoken about electric vehicles. How long would it take to make 50 percent electric vehicles even though you have given some concessions in the budget.
Lastly, he has spoken about nitrogen-filled tyres. How long will it take to fill up the tyres with nitrogen? Sir, while road construction grows apace, the safety considerations are neglected. If we have to progress fast as a country, still the roads carry much more, 80 percent of passenger traffic is carried by roads. If we have to give relief, construction must proceed apace.
With this Sir, I oppose the budget because its weak on safety and weak on fund collection.