Wooing investors to unlock India’s infrastructure potential
The India-Saudi Arab-Europe Economic Corridor proposed during the recent G20 summit to improve connectivity and economic cooperation between India, Saudi Arabia and Europe will be a major shot in the arm for the Indian infrastructure sector, says Santhosh Kumar, Vice Chairman, ANAROCK Group.The Indian government has taken concerted steps in recent years to boost infrastructure development and attract greater investment, both domestic and foreign, into the sector. Adequate infrastructure is crucial for improving productivity and enabling long-term economic growth. Some key steps taken are:National Infrastructure Pipeline: In 2019, the government announced the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) which entails an investment of Rs 111 trillion in infrastructure projects over 5 years. This creates a huge opportunity for private investors across sectors like energy, transport, urban development, and communication. 49 per cent of NIP funding is expected from the central and state governments while 51per cent is to come from the private sector.Infrastructure Investment Trusts: Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) have been introduced as an innovative investment vehicle to attract long-term finance from investors seeking regular returns. Similar to mutual funds, InvITs can be traded on stock exchanges allowing common investors to gain exposure to completed infrastructure projects. So far, around 14 InvITs have been either registered or approved.100 Smart Cities Mission: This flagship mission aims to develop 100 cities across India into sustainable and citizen-friendly urban habitats. An outlay of Rs 980 billion has been approved which will be divided between the Centre, States and private players selected to redesign and upgrade cities. This creates major investment avenues in urban rejuvenation and greenfield development.Bharatmala Pariyojana: With an investment of Rs 10 trillion, Bharatmala is one of India’s largest highway and road development programs aiming to augment 65,000 km of road networks across India. To be implemented over 5 years, this massive push for new expressways, border roads, coastal highways and rural connectivity provides huge opportunities for private and foreign investors.Sagarmala Project: The Sagarmala project aims to promote port-led development with an outlay of Rs 4 trillion. Through extensive port modernization, efficient evacuation systems and coastal community development, this can be a game-changer in optimising India’s logistics infrastructure and attracting investment in related sectors. Over 400 projects have been identified so far.Industrial corridors: India is developing dedicated industrial corridors spanning various regions powered by world-class infrastructure. The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, with an estimated cost of $100 billion is the flagship program. The Amritsar Kolkata Industrial corridor, Bengaluru-Mumbai corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru corridor are others in progress. These create zones of immense opportunity for investment and development.Revamped PPP model: A new Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model has been formulated with renewed norms, guidelines and risk-sharing mechanisms to attract private capital. Changed dispute resolution processes, streamlined procurement and optimised sharing of project risks make PPP investments more lucrative and viable. This is critical for sectors like energy, transport and urban development which require massive capital.G-20 induced boost to infrastructureThe India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor proposed during the recent G20 summit to improve connectivity and economic cooperation between India, Saudi Arabia and Europe will be a major shot in the arm for the Indian infrastructure sector. It has been proposed as a way. It would involve developing new infrastructure like roads, railways, ports, pipelines etc to improve transportation links and trade flows between the regions. This presents a major business opportunity for Indian infrastructure and construction companies.For Indian firms, there is potential to get contracts to build new roads, rail lines, ports etc along the corridor route. This could bring in large revenues and drive growth for the sector.The corridor could open up faster and better connectivity to Europe via Saudi Arabia for Indian exports. This trade boost will necessitate upgrading logistics infrastructure like warehouses, cold storage etc.Indian construction firms could also gain from developing industrial clusters, special economic zones, logistics parks etc along the corridor route as trade and investment grows.There is also scope for Indian companies to gain maintenance and operations contracts for running the new infrastructure built. The economic boost from the corridor could spur construction activity and infrastructure investment in cities and regions linked to the corridor in India.An enabling environmentEven at the macro-economic level, the Indian government has taken various initiatives in recent years to create a more investor-friendly environment and attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This has been an important priority, as increasing investment is seen as crucial for economic growth and development - which has a direct correlation to infrastructure building.Some of the major steps taken are:Make in India campaign: One of the flagship initiatives of the current government has been the Make in India campaign, launched in 2014. The aim is to boost manufacturing and attract investments in 25 key sectors. This involves easing processes, regulations and procedures to make it easier for companies to do business in India. According to the government data, during the first year, FDI inflow increased by 48per cent resulting in a total inflow of $ 63 billion.Goods and Services Tax: The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2017 has been a game changer. It has replaced a complex, multi-layered system of indirect taxes with a simple, unified tax regime. This has simplified compliance and logistics for businesses. By removing multiple touch points with authorities, GST has reduced avenues for corruption.FDI Policy Reforms: The government has steadily eased sectoral caps and restrictions on foreign investment. FDI is now allowed in many more sectors under the automatic route without government approval. Extensive reforms have been made in sectors like insurance, aviation, media and single brand retail. 100 per cent FDI is now allowed in many sectors through the automatic route.Investment promotion campaigns: Campaigns like Invest India have been launched to attract foreign investors by hand-holding and facilitating investment. Dedicated ‘single window’ systems like e-Biz have been created to enable and expedite regulatory clearances. Various forums, summits and roadshows have been conducted globally to showcase India’s capabilities.Ease-of-Doing Business Reforms: Starting with a rank of 142 in 2014, India has made remarkable progress on World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. By implementing various reforms for improving business environments and regulations, India has climbed to 63 in 2020. The goal is to join the top 50. Major improvements have been seen in areas like starting a business, paying taxes and trading across borders.To concludeThe government’s infrastructural push and top-down reforms have created a more enabling investment climate. The success of the various infrastructure initiatives depends on factors like effective project planning and preparation, fair policy implementation and transparent bidding processes. As we can see, the groundwork for this has been adequately laid.Today, the broad direction of travel towards unlocking India’s immense infrastructure promise through investor-friendly reforms is reassuring.With continued better governance and administrative reforms at the ground level, an infrastructure revolution led by private investors could be on the horizon.About the author:Santhosh Kumar is the Group Vice Chairman for ANAROCK Group Business Services. With over 20 years of experience, he is highly respected in the real estate industry and successfully manages and executes operational excellence across India and the GCC market. Before joining ANAROCK, he has held various leadership positions at Chesterton Meghraj, Tramwell Crow Meghraj and JLL.