Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday asked state governments to take urgent action to facilitate inter-state movement of vehicles carrying essential goods amid the coronavirus lockdown.
States and union territories were also asked to expedite land acquisition and utilise funds worth Rs 25,000 crore allocated for the purpose to help regain momentum in road construction.
In a video conference with state transport ministers, Gadkari also stressed upon speeding up proactive decision-making to accelerate economic development for which transport facilities serve as the backbone.
Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways and MSMEs, has "called upon all the states/UTs to take urgent action so that blockades of trucks and lorries at inter-state/UT borders is cleared at the earliest possible, as smooth movement of essential goods to various parts of the country is essential", according to a release.
Speaking at the meeting, Gadkari urged the ministers to intervene in such matters and ensure resolutions through the local/district administrations.
At the same time, he underlined adherence to guidelines like proper social distancing, wearing masks, use of sanitisers, both by the driver/cleaners and also at the dhabaas.
The minister pointed out that transportation of labour to factories etc may be facilitated by duly following the health protocols of maintaining minimum one metre distance, wearing masks, use of sanitisers, etc besides stressing the need for providing food and shelter to labour while fully observing the norms of social distancing and hygiene.
Responding to a suggestion, Gadkari informed that his ministry will start a helpline to resolve transportation issues.
Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways V K Singh, state transport and PWD ministers/deputy chief ministers, chief ministers of Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh also attended the meeting along with secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Senior officers of the road transport ministry, NHAI, NHIDCL etc also attended the virtual meeting.
"Gadkari informed that he was according top priority to the development of road/highway infrastructure and is planning to enhance National Highway construction by 2 to 3 times of the present pace in next couple of years.
He urged states/UTs to "expedite land acquisition as delays hamper the pace of development and asked the them to utilise funds which are remaining unused with them to the extent of about Rs 25,000 crore", the statement said.
Calling for speedier decision-making, Gadkari said this is critical for accelerated economic development to make India an economic super power and a 5-trillion economy.
The minister stressed that transport infrastructure serves as the backbone of the economy and hence ministers should personally monitor the process of decision making to ensure that projects do not become victim of red-tape.
Gadkari also suggested that state transport ministers should explore operationalising app-based two-wheeler taxis especially in rural areas which will assist farming communities with smoother movement.
This will also provide new employment opportunities, he said and added the states may also try to shift public transport to LNG/CNG, e-vehicles which will bring considerable savings on fuel bills and will help the environment being less/zero polluting fuels.
V K Singh called for greater coordination between states and the Centre which will help in faster project implementation. He, for example, recommended that no separate registration/charges should be insisted upon in case works are being shifted from one central agency to another. Such practices should be dispensed with, he said.
A presentation was made showing the works being carried out during the lockdown period.
"It was stated that 1,315 projects covering 49,238 kms worth Rs 5,89,648 crore were under progress, of which 819 projects covering 30,301 kms costing about Rs 3,06,250 crore were delayed. It also showed state-specific issues like pending land acquisition, environment clearance etc which have been delaying the project implementation," the release said.
The participating states were asked to take definitive steps towards mitigating the difficulties before the highways sector.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine