New Delhi: If the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government made Indian highways world class, the Narendra Modi government wants to replicate the success in the railways by building the Diamond Quadrilateral network for high speed trains.
In fact, revamp of the creaky railway network is the government’s top infrastructure agenda, which includes a massive public-private partnership (PPP) push. The statement comes at a time when passengers have come to associate the railways with all that is bad — from dirty stations to several accidents and long delays.
But more than just upgrading the current service quality, the government wants to make the railways a key element of the logistics hub that will make the economy more competitive. So, if the proposed high speed corridors, which has been on the drawing board for close to a decade, will provide faster connectivity, there is also a plan to have a network of freight corridors.
Apart from coal and steel using the corridor, there is also a plan for specialized agri-rail networks for perishable agricultural products that will move potatoes or tomatoes from a surplus part of the country to one which has deficiency and help the government tame prices. Again, this is not a proposal that has been made for the first time as similar plans have been discussed in the past but the key for the government will be to execute it.
Although former railway minister Madhavrao Scindia had first mooted the idea of high speed trains in the mid-eighties, railways came out with a white-paper in December 2009. So far, six stretches have been identified and feasibility study of Mumbai-Ahmadabad corridor is underway.
Similarly, former railway minister Lalu Prasad had announced encouraging higher level of movement of milk by tankers from various regions of the country besides introducing more refrigerated parcel vans for transportation of fruits, vegetables and other perishable commodities.
The statements come at a time when the government is also looking to allow FDI in certain segments of railways, such as high speed corridors, to ensure that the weak finances of the Indian Railways does not block any attempt to modernize a network that has largely been inherited from the British rulers.
The government, however, said that investment in railways will be increased using innovative financing methods and the network will be expanded to the hilly states and the northeast.
Apart from the railways, the President’s speech suggested that there will be a push to low cost airports to promote connectivity to small cities, revival of the “Sagar Mala” project to connect ports with hinterland through road and rail, time-bound and well monitored highway development programme and development of inland and coastal waterways have been identified as major focus area to pus h infrastructure development.
Realizing it well that government funding will be inadequate and the private investment won’t come unless there is conducive environment, Mukherjee said, “A fast-track, investment friendly and predictable PPP mechanism will be put in place.”
The government also committed to evolve a model of port-led development and making the long coastline as “gateway for India’s prosperity” by modernizing the existing ports and developing new world class ones.