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Modi 3.0: Continued capex push for infra, bullet train among priorities

The new railway minister will oversee the execution of several important initiatives in the Centre's 100-day agenda planned before the elections

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Dhruvaksh Saha New Delhi

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The ever-changing dynamics of a coalition government could alter the order of priorities for the new ministers handling the two cornerstones of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policy – infrastructure and railways. Insiders expect a capex policy push to continue at a similar pace, with minor inter-sectoral changes in priority.

The new railway minister will oversee the execution of several important initiatives in the Centre’s 100-day agenda, such as overhauling capacity and safety infrastructure, bringing bullet trains to India, and improving the digital user experience with a super app.

The new government’s policies on railways may see a higher focus on areas like direct employment generation for the national transporter, which had been outsourcing non-core jobs over the past decade to keep its rising pension bills in check.

With a large number of Indian youth aspiring to work in the railways, delays in filling up railway job vacancies were a point of criticism against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the elections. Woes of migrant labourers in general coaches might get a sympathetic ear in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Centre had been working on increasing capacity for non-AC coaches, but the volume of passengers led to criticism of the government for allegedly abdicating its responsibility to the poor. The ministry’s agenda also includes the introduction of sleeper Vande Bharat trains, which will allow these trains to undertake long-distance journeys. The ministry has awarded contracts for the manufacture of 200 trains, and more of these may be awarded soon.
Another project on the agenda is the completion of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link project. This will connect Kashmir to the rest of India and feature the Chenab Bridge.

For the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which has its capex plans caught up in red tape, getting the approval for its Rs 20 trillion Vision 2047 highway plan from the Cabinet is paramount in the order of business, officials say. 

“All matters requiring the knowledge and approval of the minister are on hold as we await the new government. So, seeing this proposal through will be among the first decisions for the new minister, as our capital expenditure plans rely on it,” a senior government official says.

In 2023, the ministry publicly flagged to the Cabinet that its plans to award highway projects had been hit due to delayed approvals for the revised cost estimates of its flagship Bharatmala Pariyojana’s first phase. The umbrella project’s cost had doubled to over Rs 10.6 trillion as of 2022. It also admitted to missing its targets in the last financial year in the absence of approvals for Bharatmala.

The ministry has subsumed all pending Bharatmala projects, Phase-II of the programme, and fresh proposals into one Cabinet note. This is currently being consulted on at higher levels of the government.

On whether a coalition government could change dynamics, officials say the highway plan is a priority at the highest levels of the government, and the ministry does not foresee major problems due to a coalition government. But a thorough vetting process of the Cabinet will take some time.

In the near term, the minister would have to construct over 1,700 km of highways in the coming three months and award over 3,000 km. The ministry’s agenda also includes the test launch of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

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First Published: Jun 09 2024 | 11:43 PM IST

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