'Our only agenda is development'
In an exclusive address to Millennium Post, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari discusses the highlights of developments in the past four years
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Nitin Jairam Gadkari speaks exclusively to Millennium Post regarding the developments and highlights of his sector over the past four years.
As the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accomplished four years, your Ministry standouts for being one of the top performers. The work done by your Ministry is winning the hearts of people across the country. How do you see these achievements?
It is not that only my Ministry is achieving all goals within stipulated time, every Ministry has done 10 times more work in 48 months than what the Congress could do in 48 years. The advantage of my Ministry is that we can showcase our achievements which others such cannot. People can see completed and ongoing road projects, but major reforms initiated in the agriculture sector, consumer affairs, Human Resource Development Ministry to better the quality of education, etc. cannot be made visible to the people. Every Minister under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done remarkable work for the holistic development of the country.
We have completed the first phase Delhi-Meerut Expressway in a record time of just 18 months, reducing the 4-5 hours travel time from Delhi to Meerut to just 45 minutes, which is a great relief to people residing in the areas of Ghaziabad, Indirapuram, etc. Similarly, the six-lane Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) has been built in a record time of 17 months. This expressway is expected to bring down the pollution level in Delhi by 27 per cent. It is India's first solar-powered highway and is equipped with provisions of rainwater harvesting every 500 metres on either side.
What would you pinpoint as the achievement of the government for 2019 general elections?
Our only agenda is development. We would highlight the schemes that have been implemented by the government, which are proving to be a game changer for the country as well as beneficiaries. After four years, there are economic reforms, administrative reforms, judicial reforms, social sector reforms, new legislation, and newer programmes. The most important thing is that those who are socially, economically, or educationally backward are benefited. Over 16,000 villages have been provided electricity and now we are giving electricity to every household.
We planned on providing gas connection to eight crore families and out of that four crore families have already been allotted gas connections. We have given access to a bank to every poor by opening their account under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Initially, accounts opened by people were only three crores but rose to over 31 crore and Rs 80,000 crore has been deposited in those Jan Dhan accounts so far.
Even under Atal Pension Yojana, Fasal Bima Yojana, irrigation scheme, the individual benefit is going to gaon (village), garib (poor), mazdoor (labourer), and kisan (farmer) which is an important achievement of our government. Under Ayushman Bharat -- National Health Protection Mission, the government has set a target to provide health insurance cover of up to Rs 5 lakh to over 10 crore families under the revamped scheme.
What are the major upcoming road projects?
There are over 400 upcoming highway projects. Among the important road projects are Bangalore-Chennai highway, Delhi-Mumbai highway, Delhi-Katra, and Delhi-Jaipur, and they will be operational very soon. The Jaipur Ring Road, which was started by the Transport Ministry, would be open for public by October-November this year. The way we are working, I'm confident of building a robust network of highways without putting much burden on the exchequer.
How do you define smart highways?
In my view, a smart highway means a clean, green, and safe highway. I see highways with lots of greenery and with all safety features. We want to plant 10 crore saplings along highways; this is a challenging job but achievable. When I talk about developing gardens, motels, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. alongside national highways, it looks like a dream, which would soon turn out to be a reality. Wait for the next two years and you will see how the picture of national highways would change.
On the lines of San Francisco-Los Angels highways, the Ministry is developing a highway from Mumbai to Goa, which would have the facilities of spa, wildlife sanctuaries, motels, etc. The journey would be memorable as it will be more than just crossing a national highway. The Mumbai-Goa highway will start from Alibagh. The Delhi-Meerut Expressway is very unique in itself as the 14-lane expressway is the first in the country that has vertical gardens with the solar power system and drip irrigation. The beautiful lighting system has also been developed on the major structures.
Similarly, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway has auto-challan feature for over-speeding as cameras will capture speed of vehicles. Besides, it will have provisions of tolling only for the distance travelled. EPE is equipped with smart and intelligent highway traffic management system (HTMS) and video incident detection system (VIDS). It is environment-friendly with world-class safety features and smart, interactive infrastructure.
Given that most of the rivers in the country do not have adequate water, how do you think the plan to develop about 106 inland waterways is feasible?
We are maintaining it. We have started dredging in Ganga at the cost of Rs 1,700 crore apart from developing four multi-model hubs in Varanasi, Haldia, Sahebganj, and Gazipur. The Varanasi hub would be inaugurated in October this year, while the plan is to develop over 60 river ports. We have installed a river traffic system along the lines of air traffic control system. Keeping in mind the upcoming Khumbh festival in 2019, we have developed four river ports between Varanasi to Allahabad and it has been estimated that over 1,000 people would travel to Allahabad using the waterways – this would give a great relief to road traffic.
The river interlinking project, which was first mooted during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, is yet to be accomplished. What's the status of the project?
We have started interlinking projects of Damanganga – Pinjal, Ken, Betwa, Par-Tapi-Narmada, Godavari-Cauvery, etc. to resolve long pending water disputes between different states. I assure that all river interlinking projects would commence before December.
It is predicted that by 2022, the country will face a shortage of 50 per cent commercial drivers. What are your plans to address the issue when the network of highways is on the rise?
Yes, it is true. There is a shortage of over 22,000 drivers. We have taken several corrective measures including the opening of 2,000 driving training centres to address the situation. As per the plan, the driving centres would come up not only in Tier 1 cities though it would be opened in small towns, tribal areas and backward areas so that people living in remote locations would get benefitted from it and get employment. I have strongly opposed the plan to bring in driverless cars in the country as it would put a stop to employment generation.
There is a buzz that you will be the next PM as you are favourable among alliance partners. What are your comments?
I don't want to be PM. I'm doing my best at whatever I have been assigned by our Prime Minister. I'm happy with what I'm doing. Our government is doing very well under the Modiji and only he would be our PM.
(Dhirendra Kumar is Special Correspondent with Millennium Post)