While the government has outlined a $5 trillion economy plan, challenges and hindrances continue to plague infrastructure .. March 2020
To achieve a GDP of $5 trillion by 2024-25, India needs to spend about $1.4 trillion over these years on infrastructure. The challenge is to step up annual infrastructure investment so that lack of infrastructure does not become a binding constraint on the growth of the economy. Recently, a Task Force was constituted to draw up the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) for each of the years from FY2019-20 to FY2024-25 with the approval of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The Task Force is chaired by Secretary, DEA, with CEO, NITI Aayog; Secretary, Expenditure; Secretary of the Administrative Ministries and Additional Secretary, Investments, DEA as members; and Joint Secretary (IPF), DEA, as member secretary.
Beginning in September 2019, several meetings have been held to seek information as well as suggestions on reforms required in the infrastructure sectors. (for reform initiatives detail in the NIP report turn to page 88) On the basis of the information compiled to date, total project capital expenditure in the infrastructure sectors in India during the fiscals 2020 to 2025 is projected at over Rs.102 trillion.
Of the total expected capital expenditure of Rs.102 trillion, a PIB release reveals that projects worth Rs.2.7 trillion (42 per cent) are under implementation and worth Rs.32.7 trillion (32 per cent) are in the conceptualisation stage, while the rest are under development. (View Sector-wise Break-up of NIP on page 42) It is expected that projects of certain states, who are yet to communicate their pipelines, would be added to the pipeline in due course.
Impact on the economy The NIP serves as a goalpost on what should be done in the next six years.
In the view of Vijay Agrawal, Executive Director, Equirus Capital, the NIP investment plan is achievable. “Most investment is planned by the Centre and state governments. Around 22 per cent of investment is planned through the private sector,” he shares, adding that the proposed investment is skewed towards roads, railways and urban infrastructure.
“NIP resembles what we used to have during the Five-Year Plan, where outlays were specified for various sectors and subsectors. Hence, it is something that will always be kept in mind when the economy moves ahead,” says Madan Sabnavis, Chief Economist, CARE Ratings.
He adds that this involves the active participation of the Centre, states and the private sector, with the first two contributing to 78 per cent of total funding.
Funding has been an ongoing challenge for the sector.
“We need innovation in financing models as well as appropriate policy responses on the side of regulation as most infra projects are long term in nature and can stretch across different governments and ideology,” adds Sabnavis.
For faster growth to meet the $5 trillion target by 2025, more supply-side reforms are needed. Creating new and upgrading existing infrastructure will be key to raising India’s competitiveness and achieving this target.
In terms of NIP’s contribution to the economy, Vijay Agrawal shares:
Also, as the infrastructure investment rate increases, it has the potential to generate a manifold and multiplied output that helps move the economy forward.
“Today, the investment rate has come down to 28-29 per cent from 35-36 per cent eight years ago,” says Sabnavis. “Infrastructure investment can change this stagnation in the economy and create more jobs in related industries.”
But to begin with, will the government meet its target in the first year, or could there be a miss?
“The first year of investment target will be a miss,” responds Agrawal. “However, after the election, the Modi II government has focused on creating a pipeline of infrastructure projects, planning, and a conducive environment for project implementation. And NIP has been unveiled to give direction for infrastructure investment.”
He expects project bidding to start from next year, saying, “It is expected that a novel financing model will be introduced for reduction of pressure on the annual Budget.”
“The first two years will be particularly challenging because the allocations are the highest and the flow of revenue to the government has slowed down owing to low economic growth,” reasons Sabnavis. With GDP growth, the next year is also expected to be relatively low though higher than FY2020; revenue would be under pressure. Hence, he adds, “To meet this target, the government has to be flexible with the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) norms or do off balance sheet transactions like borrowing in the market by PSUs to ensure we are close to these targets.”
With the Centre and states expected to have an equal share of capital expenditure at 39 per cent each to be undertaken in the infrastructure sector; the private sector accounts for 22 per cent.
Private investment into physical and social infrastructure is key to putting India on a high growth trajectory. But attracting private investment has always been challenging for several construction and infrastructure sectors.
Currently, the Indian financial markets are in doldrums. “Banks are not lending and the NBFC sector has collapsed,” says Agrawal. This has resulted in liquidity crises for project developers and delayed their financial closure. Hence, he thinks it will be tough for the private sector to achieve the proposed investment targets.
“Private investment will come with a lag,” says Sabnavis. With several projects held up in the IBC framework, there is a wait-and-watch policy being followed by existing players to scout for purchase of existing assets; thus, demand for new projects is subdued.
Also, with banks yet to emerge from the NPA issue, the willingness to lend is limited. And the NBFC crises have added to the uncertainly as well.“In these circumstances,” he adds, “while larger companies would use ECBs to finance such infrastructure projects, others without a good credit rating will be excluded from the bond market.”
Agrawal also sees a challenge from government agencies on contractual terms. He points to the Andhra Pradesh Government’s decision to renegotiate tariffs for the renewable sector and cancel ongoing infrastructure contracts as having shaken the confidence of international investors.
Sabnavis emphasises that private investment normally takes place when the economy is on an upswing. Considering that growth prospects look subdued for one more year, there would be less enthusiasm from this sector today.
While Agrawal is certain that the government needs to create a conducive environment for investment by the private sector, he says, “After a favourable investment environment, the private sector will exceed its proposed investment targets under NIP.”
For his part, Sujoy Bose, CEO, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, says, “Our infrastructure fund is operational and we have created a number of operating companies through which our equity investments are ongoing. We also have an operational infrastructure debt financing business and we will continue to support viable projects from this business.”
Meanwhile, Agrawal says government support and policy push are critical to reviving private investment. Look beyond BOT, he urges, embrace PPP models with nuanced risk-sharing; re-draw contracting frameworks for flexibility and performance; diversify and deepen infrastructure financing landscape; and sustain policy support to cement gaps in infrastructure financing.
“Once NIP releases project details planned across states and segments over the next five years, it will help Afcons identify upcoming projects and plan accordingly,” says Akhil Gupta, Executive Director (Operation) & BU Head, Surface Transport, Afcons. NIP has planned `16.3 trillion of investments under the urban sector, and the company will target to continue its leadership position in underground and elevated metro. Also, roads have maximum investments outline over the next five years under NIP, and, Afcons would like to participate actively. While railway continues to remain one of the focus sectors for the company, it is expecting projects in ports, irrigation and water infrastructure under NIP. The pipeline is expected to offer enormous opportunities in investment, development, construction, operation and maintenance spaces for infrastructure companies. Given the monumental opportunity, PNC Infratech is gearing up swiftly in enhancing its all-round capabilities in delivering projects successfully. “During FY2019, both fund-based and non-fund based limits of the company have substantially been enhanced by the consortium of banks, which will enable us to pitch for more and larger size projects in FY2020, says Yogesh Kumar Jain, Managing Director, PNC Infratech. The company continues to invest on procurement of modern and multifunctional plant and equipment. It has also strengthened its team on the manpower front.
On NIP, Jain says, “Rs.16.64 trillion worth projects are identified in the roads and highways sector,Rs.13.69 trillion projects in railways, and Rs.1.43 trillion projects in airports.” He adds, “We have got our core competency and proven expertise in the roads and highways sector, and this will continue to be our focus sector. We would also look for right project opportunities in the airport and railway sectors.”
YD Murthy, Executive Vice President (Finance), NCC, views NIP as a good initiative by the Central Government to kick start the economy and take care of the physical infrastructure deficit in the country. NCC is focused on buildings, roads, and water pipelines where the company has strong execution capabilities. It is also active in electrical transmission and distribution projects as well as irrigation projects. “We are keen on cash contracts in all the above verticals,” says Murthy. “We participate in the bidding process in the roads sector initiated by NHAI. We may also participate in HAM projects being awarded by NHAI on a selective basis.”
NIP envisages a key role for private players in financing and implementation of infrastructure development in FY2020-25.
“Our company has extensive experience in PPP models, including both BOT (Toll) and HAM, and are thus positioned to participate in the government’s nation-building initiative, says Sandeep Garg, Managing Director & CEO, Welspun Enterprises. The company is currently focused on HAM projects in the road and water sectors – which are among the key sectors that the NIP addresses. “Going forward, due to NIP, we see a lot of opportunities in these two sectors,” he adds. The company has seven road HAM projects in its portfolio with a total project value of more than Rs 85 billion. In the water sector, it is focusing on HAM projects (and opportunistic EPC play) in bulk, water transport, treatment, and desalination.
Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon caters to the entire infrastructure spectrum with projects across highways, bridges, airports, railways, metro-rail, defence sector, water supply, waste management, and smart cities. Executing projects in more than 20 states, Hardik Agrawal, Director, Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon, says, “We have geared up our geography and have brushed up on our execution skills where we are completing not only EPC but PPP projects ahead of schedule. There is a significant technical and commercial team to take up effective project and deliver quality.
Considering the changing business scenario and client expectations, GR Infraprojects believes in the proactive approach. Ratan Lal Kashyap, Sr Vice President-Procurement, GR Infraprojects, says, “Our focus has been to expand business portfolios to infrastructure segments by continuously evaluating business opportunities. We see maximum opportunities in road construction and railways.”
Himanshu Chaturvedi, Chief Strategy Officer, Tata Projects, expects exponential growth for the company due to the government’s focus on infrastructure upgradation and expansion across sectors such as metro-rail, roads and bridges, railways, power, oil and gas, buildings and industrial structures, smart-cities, river rejuvenation, and space rocket components. He says, “We remain highly optimistic about the infrastructure sector and our company in particular.”
Chaturvedi agrees, “The financial and technical viability of projects is extremely important, however, there could be some exceptions wherein the specific project is critical to the nation or community.” He adds that the NIP mechanism is a good initiative since the identified projects would have better planning and improved monitoring – therefore suffer less financial or economic uncertainty. However, the structure of implementation mechanism has yet to be ascertained since it is still early days for NIP.
Garg points out, NIP has identified ‘Improving Project Preparation Process’ as a key reform initiative to propel investments. “We see this reform as a key enabler in making projects technically and financially viable.” NIP has also identified ‘Robust enabling environment’ – comprising of optimal risk-sharing mechanisms and enforcement of contracts – as an area for reform. Garg says, “These two reform initiatives will go a large way in addressing issues faced by private players in infrastructure.”
Several reforms have been recommended and the need for updating existing sectoral policies has been updated. “This would help in propelling investments in infrastructure,” says Gupta. He points out to some of the reforms that would help improve technical viability of projects: “Transparent policy and legislative framework, model bidding documents, need of overarching and empowered public institution for infrastructure planning.” He further adds that recommendations related to the financial sector reforms in infrastructure, such as establishing credit enhancement fund for infrastructure projects and encouraging use of innovative mechanism for long-term financing requirements would help in strengthening the financial viability of projects. International benchmarks on bringing latest construction methodologies has brought in ways for faster execution considering all technical parameters specified in terms of contract. Kashyap says, “The concession period for any HAM project varies between 15 to 25 years with performance guarantee and assurance of all performance parameter.”
He observes that the approach of the concessionaire has gradually changed to quality construction of road, due to which, all concessionaires have increased the appetite on investment of future ready capital equipment for quality construction of infrastructure projects.
Considering what it would take to face the current challenges, Murthy suggests:
“Most companies into the infra segment supplies have enhanced their production capacities, increased their investments on research and development, and have also introduced new product lines considering the last five years of appreciable growth in the sector,” says Kashyap.
Garg sees great opportunity arising from the envisaged Rs.102 trillion as a whole – from construction companies, equipment and material manufacturers.
He says, “Technology is a core value for us, and we see the use of technology, both in construction and in O&M, increasing manifold as a result of the NIP.” For successful implementation of the projects identified under the NIP, timely and adequate availability of key resources including money, men, materials and machinery is crucial. “As demand for these resources would surge as implementation progresses, it would certainly give a great fillip to the supporting industries, including engineering, design and consultancy, construction materials and finished items, plant and equipment and technology providers,” says Jain. While the construction industry is adopting the modern technologies, he also points out to it being a labour intensive industry.“ Huge employment generation is also expected while implementing the NIP.”
To achieve the target of scaling India’s GDP to its ambitious $5 trillion by FY2025, it is imperative for the country to invest $1.4 trillion on infrastructure untill FY2025, as compared to the $1.1 trillion invested in infrastructure during the past 10 years. “Therefore,” Jain says, “we believe progressive implementation of NIP will definitely be providing a leg up to the country’s economy.”
Murthy believes that NIP will enable a forward outlook on infrastructure projects, which will create jobs, improve ease of living, and provide equitable access to infrastructure for all, thereby making growth more inclusive.
“NIP includes economic and social infrastructure projects. This could lead to the revival of the Indian economy in the near future,” he says. As the entire infrastructure working mechanism is a web cycle, and if all stakeholders work to the expectation, growth is a given and it will bring in employment opportunity and boost in liquidity at all levels. “Government’s approach on identifying the issues faced at all levels in the system, regular review of such issues, and coming out with solutions has gradually refined,” says Kashyap. “The speed mechanism on decision-making has also liberated the faster progress of the projects.”
Agrawal elaborates, “When the government invites a project, 12 per cent of the project cost goes back to the government in the form of GST. Then procuring high value and volume materials such as cement and steel also incur a GST. This not only creates more ability to spend for the government, but also creates huge economic generation within the country.” NIP is a comprehensive vision document for the industry prepared with inputs from almost all the stakeholders. “The infrastructure sector has the biggest multiplier effect on economy and proposed project investment in NIP, when translated to reality, will benefit all sectors of the economy,” says Garg. The pipeline proposes to benchmark infrastructure performance to global standards and best practices. And, as an industry player, Garg is tremendously enthused by this initiative of the government. “We look forward to both, the challenges and opportunities, arising from it.” While the industry is gearing up for NIP, all eyes on the government’s next move in the pipeline and its success.
It is essential that theGovernment and its agencies consider private developerstheir partners. This will help create a positive investment environment in the country and lead to more private investment. This in turn will instil confidence among foreign investors and attract more FDI.
“The last few quarters have been challenging for our economy with obvious signs of lacklustre growth in the face of reduced public consumption, lower tax collections, tight credit conditions and a host of other reasons. The NIP, which plans to invest over `1 billion on infrastructure over a six-year period, is an ambitious plan to raise the quality of life and ease of living in India to global standards.
A slew of measures has been envisaged and although much of the modalities yet need to be worked out, NIP is certainly that booster shot that the economy so direly required. The good news is that more than 70 per cent of the projects, under the purview of NIP, are under various stages of approvals and implementation that reflect continuity of spend on infrastructure as a ratio of the GDP if extrapolated over the next five to six years.
According to NIP, the investments are front loaded with about 80 per cent earmarked predominantly for roads, urban infrastructure and housing, railways, power (conventional and renewable), irrigation and digital infrastructure, which are our areas of operations.
As in the rest of the world, public infrastructure is being predominantly supported by the government, and NIP envisages 78 per cent Capex equally from the Central and state governments, and the remaining 22 per cent from private players.
While NIP underlines the government’s continued focus on infrastructure and commitment to revive the investment cycle, the government needs to be equally vigilant to tackle issues such as financing, land acquisitions, environmental clearances, operational issues with PPP projects, reduce cycle time from tendering to bid awarding and such like to remove impediments for sustained growth.
We, at L&T, are confident that these steps will revive sentiment, trigger domestic demand in the medium to long term, and thereby, spur overall economic activity.”
As Akhil Gupta, Executive Director (Operation) & BU Head, Surface Transport, Afcons, says, “Delay in land acquisition and obtaining clearances from multiple authorities during project conception and execution is one of the main bottlenecks. This, in turn, leads to project delays, which results in cost escalation and balloons total project completion costs.” He also points to one-sided contractual terms and conditions favouring clients as one of the important factors impeding contractors from participating in infrastructure projects. Further, quick settlement and resolution of disputes and timely payment of arbitral awards by clients are lacking in the current infrastructure ecosystem. “Aversion of the banking sector towards lending to EPC infrastructure companies has adversely impacted the ability of construction companies to manage working capital needed for on-time project completion,” he adds. NHAI contracts require the provision of a performance bank guarantee for the entire duration of the construction and maintenance period, ie up to 12-13 years. Construction companies are, therefore, facing huge bank guarantee limit issues.
“Timely execution of projects within budgeted costs will be the key challenge, even if funding is available for economically viable projects,” observes Ratan Lal Kashyap, Senior Vice President-Procurement, GR Infraprojects. “Also, in the past few months, the number of projects that have come across has been much lower compared to the last fiscal year, which resulted in a lull among the companies.” He believes that the huge number of NPAs declared by banks has brought in resentment in infrastructure funding and that the government’s plan for BOT projects has taken a backseat because of financial constraints at the stakeholder level.
According to YD Murthy, Executive Vice President (Finance), NCC, the following factors need to be addressed:
While land continues to be the persisting bottleneck for many, Yogesh Kumar Jain, Managing Director, PNC Infratech, says, “Delay in removal and relocation of utilities, such as existing power distribution lines, water supply pipelines, structures and trees, is another major hindrance, particularly in the case of brownfield infrastructure projects.” As the government has already identified large economic and social infrastructure projects under the ambitious NIP for implementation by FY2025, Jain says, “There could be certain inadequacies in the resources including money, men, materials and machinery that would be required opportunely.”
Himanshu Chaturvedi, Chief Strategy Officer, Tata Projects, lists a few issues facing the infrastructure sector: “Right of way, single-window clearance, speeding up of financial closure, ensuring economic viability, and extra emphasis on the L1 model of tendering.” For other areas that require attention, he highlights “reinvigoration of private investment and availability of low-cost funds”.
He adds that there must be increased budgetary allocation for investment in critical segments.
“Availability of long-term debt funding is an issue as banks are reluctant to lend beyond ~13 years and many infrastructure projects need loan tenures longer than that,” says Sandeep Garg, Managing Director & CEO, Welspun Enterprises. “Stable long-term infrastructure funding requires the involvement of pension funds as well as revitalisation of the NBFCs and the bond market.” For HAM projects, he adds, “The investment by the concessionaire is repaid with an interest rate of bank rate + 3 per cent. The transmission of rate reductions by lenders is minimal and happens with a significant lag. A higher spread over the bank rate (say 5 per cent) is required to ensure that the cost of debt is adequately covered during the O&M phase.”
Hardik Agrawal, Director, Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon, is certain that while the government is actively establishing a great scenario for infrastructure, “it has to be supported with effective policies, faster decision-making, and timely resolution of issues, which lead to lesser arbitration and fewer disputes, and faster project completion.”
- SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN
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