The improvement of highway infrastructure between key cities has sharply shrunk travel time, with the result being that commuters are increasingly opting for road trips between these destinations instead of taking flights, according to Union Road Transport & Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari. In an interview with Mihir Mishra & Anil Sasi, he said the highways sector in India has immense potential as a driver of growth in the economy, while asserting he is of the view that rules should not be rigid only on any particular technology on alternate automobile fuels, even as it is imperative that the transport sector find alternative technologies to replace petrol and diesel vehicles in order to reduce the crude import bill. Edited Excerpts:
Operational highway stretches constitute the largest share of Rs 1.6-lakh crore asset monetisation plan spread over a period of four years under the National Monetisation Pipeline. How is that proceeding?
Every toll road can be monetised and we are actively proceeding with the asset monetisation plans. As far as highway building is concerned, money is not a problem… we have a budget of Rs 2,00,000 crore.
We are currently developing highways through a combinations of models — the hybrid annuity model or HAM, BOT (build operate transfer, and TOT (toll operate transfer) models… the fourth model that we are in the process of finalising is the InVIT (infrastructure investment trust) route and we are lining up 3-4 projects.
Under this model, we will be moving to the capital market … So, essentially small investors currently earning 4-5 per cent on their money in fixed deposits can now invest up to Rs 10 lakh each and they will get an 8 per cent return on their investments.
We are in the process of finalising it with the Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India). This model will help India’s middle class earn more on their investments.
Are there specific targets that you’ve set on improving highway connectivity?
As Road Minister, I had announced plans to cut the travel time between Delhi–Mumbai to 12 hours and this road is about 70 per cent done. Travel times to Meerut, Dehradun, Haridwar, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Katra, Srinagar and Amritsar have all reduced from earlier, and I have the satisfaction of having been able to fulfil my promise…
However, there is a lot more work to be done… The transport sector in India has immense possibilities and I am working on this.
Accidents on highways — how big a concern is that?
There are four reasons for accidents — road engineering, automobile engineering, commuter education and implementation of rules. We are working on all of it. We have identified 2,500 black spots and are working with an aim to reduce accidents on these spots. We are losing about 150,000 people due to road accidents and about 60 per cent of those deaths are in the 18-24 age group, which is a big loss.
If we leave aside other things, just the loss to India’s GDP due to these deaths would be in the range of 3 percentage points.
The government’s focus seems to be largely only on battery electric vehicles as an alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles? Is this focus extremely narrow?
First of all, our annual oil import bill is of the order of Rs 16 lakh crore. I am of the view that we should implement all alternative fuel technology available in the country to help us bring down our import bills.
Ethanol and methanol are already being blended with fossil fuels to reduce this dependence on imported crude. For instance, Assam Petroleum produces 100 tonne/day of methanol, which we can use to blend with diesel in that part of the country. For Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Bihar, we will use ethanol, since this is the sugarcane belt and ethanol is readily available.
So, companies are now coming with flexible fuel engines (flexible fuel vehicles or FFVs have an internal combustion engine and are capable of operating on gasoline and any blend of gasoline and ethanol). We are also focusing on making biodiesel through used oil. IndianOil is making 1 lakh litre ethanol and 150 tonne bio bitumen daily from agriculture waste. India consumes 75 lakh tonnes of bitumen per year and we import about 25 lakh tonnes — this import can be reduced if we start using agricultural waste to produce these.
So, rules should not be rigid only on any particular technology and should allow everyone with an aim to restrict petrol and diesel use. These are indigenous technologies that pollute less with respect to petrol & diesel. Hence, import substitute, cost effective, pollution free and indigenous. The focus should be on all technologies. This is a huge target and the sky is the limit in terms of bringing in alternative technologies. We encourage everyone to bring new technology, and there is absolutely no conflict in this.