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Infrastructure push to counter ‘paralysis’
PM raises bar, warns against squabbles

New Delhi, June 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today set ambitious infrastructure targets for this financial year, pushing an entire array of projects to counter the perception of a policy paralysis.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was not part of the meeting of infrastructure ministries and railway minister Mukul Roy did not attend. Both leaders are from Bengal that stands to gain from at least two of the key projects put in fast-forward mode at the meeting.

Official sources sought to play down the absence of Mukherjee, saying his was not a ministry related to infrastructure, though the finance minister is usually part of cabinet meetings on the sector as he releases funds for the projects.

Several of the projects were related to Roy’s railway ministry, including part of a freight corridor connecting Dankuni, near Calcutta, to be built under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.

Roy was associated with another project, a new deep-sea port slated to come up at Sagar in Bengal, having pushed for it when he was junior shipping minister.

Officials said the Prime Minister decided to go ahead with the railway plans despite Roy’s absence as the railway ministry had sent papers indicating it would like to list the projects among achievable targets for this year, and was represented by the Railway Board chairman.

The ministers of power, surface transport, shipping, civil aviation and coal attended the meeting, as did Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

The thrust came against the backdrop of the perceived “policy paralysis”. Singh appeared to acknowledge the concerns when he said: “There is need to create an atmosphere conducive to investment and to removing bottlenecks… these will turn around India.”

Singh added that he had asked “them (ministers) to expeditiously resolve any inter-ministerial differences that might arise”. The comment could be taken to mean that such squabbles had posed bottlenecks earlier.

Officials said the infrastructure projects could catalyse growth and “push it to 9 per cent”. The growth in the last fiscal was 6.5 per cent, with the figure in the January-March quarter plumbing a nine-year low of 5.3 per cent.

Among the big projects targeted for completion were two major ports in public-private partnership. One port is planned at Sagar in Bengal and the other in Andhra Pradesh.

The Sagar port will help the silt-choked Calcutta and Haldia ports, a problem that has forced many Bengal firms to use ports in Orissa and Andhra.

The deep-sea port was initially conceived by the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) in 2002 as a solution to the silt woes.