The recent inauguration of the 9.15-km Dhola-Sadiya Bridge, India’s longest bridge above water, by Prime Minister Modi coincided with the completion of three years of his government in office. Apart from underscoring the government’s emphasis on infrastructure, it also reaffirmed its resolve in improving connectivity to the Northeastern region. Built at Rs 1,000 crore under PPP with Navayuga Engineering over rivers Bramhaputra and Lohit, the bridge cuts travel time by four hours.
In fact, the Nitin Gadkari ministry has awarded 16,800 km of highway contracts and constructed around 8,500 km for the year ended March, taking the count up to 23 km per day. The 135-km Eastern Peripheral Expressway, being constructed to decongest Delhi, is scheduled for completion in the next few months. Similarly, other expressways to take off include Delhi-Meerut, Mumbai-Vadodara, Dwarka Expressway, Bengaluru-Chennai and Delhi-Jaipur. With HAM not being popular yet, EPC is the easier way to accelerate road development. The 43-km, 12-lane Dedicated Freight Corridor costing Rs 3,000 crore from JNPT (Navi Mumbai) to Panvel, being built to ease container traffic is also under construction. Further, the UDAN scheme envisages 45 new airports and 70 regional routes, and caps ticket fares at Rs 2,500 for one-hour flights. Six new ports are being developed, and automobile and leather clusters have been planned alongside. Indeed, infrastructure bottlenecks are being addressed like never before and the pace is surely picking up.
However, the recent rate slabs announced under GST are likely to undermine infrastructure plans as construction equipment has been put under the same category as luxury cars! The rate applicable is 28 per cent; given the fact that 70 per cent of buyers of construction equipment are small entrepreneurs, small rental companies and hiring small setups, their capacity to buy will be affected and may deter the pace of execution. A pace of 40 km per day from the current 23 km would require extensive mechanisation and the government must consider a slab that encourages adoption. Categorising it with luxury cars is unfair – if the government thinks this equipment is purchased by companies that will pass on the tax impact, it is ill-advised. The Budget has allocated a spend of Rs 3.96 lakh crore on infrastructure in 2017-18 and this GST rate will result in inflating the cost, apart from affecting rightful demand. Even the ‘Make in India’ initiative that is helping the industry gain its status as an export hub will take a beating with the GST dampener. Given the importance of building infrastructure at a reasonable cost and easing the pressure of high financial costs hurting the infrastructure industry, a rate of 12 per cent for GST is being proposed.