Waiting for ´Udta´ India

On June 25, exactly a year after the Smart Cities Mission was launched, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 84 projects from 20 selected cities that collectively aggregate to Rs 2,000 crore. Standing on stage along with the Union Minister of Urban Development, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and the Union Minister for Environment, with the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha on video conference, he lauded the efforts of the winning cities and thanked the citizens of these cities for their participation in the challenge that led to the selection of the cities. The PM has not just launched several schemes for the long-term development of the nation but ensured that they are on track by reviewing operations periodically. His reviews send a shiver down the spine of the ministers as he looks for progress with an eagle eye and has the memory of an elephant!

´Brexit´ has heightened the volatility of global business even while our PM has enhanced India´s engagement with global leaders such that our voice is heard over several others. The Indian economy is on the mend as stated in this column and in our previous issues; even the economic indicators are turning positive. India needs to create a million jobs while it is just managing to provide for half that figure. FDI in 2015-16 has been a record $63 billion and now nine more sectors have been opened to additional liberalisation, with up to 100 per cent under automatic route, like defence, pharma, cable networks, mobile phones, airport, air transport, broadcast carriage services, and so on. Terms have been eased for food processing and retail. This is the second major overhaul of FDI rules in seven months.

In November, the government eased norms in 15 sectors. A Rs 6,000-crore package has been passed for the textile sector, aimed at generating 10 million jobs over the next three years and improving the sector´s global competitiveness. All these measures are aimed at creation of employment opportunities and to cope with the gap in providing opportunities for our country´s youth.

India needs to fill the huge infrastructure gap, which requires over $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years. Acceleration in construction of road projects has yielded twin benefits: Injection of immediate liquidity into construction projects and the benefit of the multiplier effect caused by acceleration of trade owing to connectivity between cities, towns and villages. This is being stepped up with a target of 10,000 km for 2016-17.

Further, NHAI has prepared a grid of 27 horizontal and vertical national highway corridors at a distance of every 250 km crisscrossing the country. All these stretches will be of four lanes. The total length of these corridors, including ones such as Kanyakumari to Srinagar, Porbandar to Kolkata, Surat to Paradip Port, Rameswaram to Dehradun, and Mangalore Port to Chennai Port, is about 36,600 km. Out of this, about 30,100 km are already national highways but only 18,800 km of them are four lanes. The proposed NH grid shall not only improve connectivity in each region and state capital but provide a highway link to 12 major ports, 45 out of 53 million-plus cities and 26 state capitals besides providing connectivity to major tourist and religious places. The recently announced aviation policy also plans to increase the number of airports as part of the ´Regional Connectivity Scheme´ servicing commercial flights from the current 77 to 127 by 2019.

Our institutional capacity needs to keep pace with our aspirations. And if our courts, which are already groaning under the pressure of pending cases, now have to intervene in censorship of movies, like in the Udta Punjab case, then it is a blatant abuse of strained capacity. Only if we hold institutions like ISRO, which recently earned millions of dollars by becoming only the third nation after Russia and the USA to launch the largest number of satellites in one rocket launch, as an example, will our soaring dreams fructify.