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PM sets tough infrastructure targets

New Delhi, June 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today set tough infrastructure targets for the current financial year, which includes adding a record 18,000MW of power capacity, awarding 9,500km of roads for construction this year and over 4,000km for maintenance.

The target also includes awarding work for two new major public-private partnership ports, including Sagar in Bengal, besides awarding three new Greenfield airports in Navi Mumbai, Goa and Kannur and new international airports in Lucknow, Varanasi, Coimbatore, Trichy and Gaya.

The meet, which saw Trinamul minister Mukul Roy absenting himself from the high-profile gathering, also decided to go ahead with finalising a bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and awarding work on the elevated rail corridor in Mumbai, two new loco manufacturing units at Madhepura and Morhowra and the Dankuni-Sonnagar public-private partnership stretch of the dedicated freight corridor, besides redeveloping up to five stations through public-private partnership.

Roy was away on an election campaign, something that the Prime Minister was not too happy about, according to sources. Officials said the Prime Minister decided to go ahead with announcing the railway targets despite the absence of his Trinamul colleague, as the railway ministry had sent papers indicating they would like to list these among achievable plans for this year and was represented by chairman of the railway board.

The Trinamul minister’s absence was all the more strange as not only railway projects were discussed but port projects that were Bengal-centric. One of the two deep sea ports will be set up in Bengal and Roy, in his earlier avatar as minister of state for shipping, had lobbied hard for Sagar as the location for the port. Calcutta and Haldia ports suffer from silting, which does not allow heavy draught vehicles to anchor at these ports, forcing many Bengal firms to use ports elsewhere to ship their produce.

It was also decided that coal production would be hiked by 8.8 per cent. Coal output has been a drag on the country’s GDP growth, with low production and poor quality coal mined, affecting electricity generation.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was not invited to the meeting, which had the ministers of power, roadways, shipping, civil aviation and coal besides Singh’s trusted lieutenant — plan panel deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia — in attendance. The reason trotted out was that Mukherjee was not an infrastructure minister, though usually the finance minister is included in all cabinet meetings on infrastructure as he is the one who pays for most projects.

Sources said Singh often felt cramped by Mukherjee, who at one time in the 1980s had been his boss and often still ended up taking decisions at many meetings chaired by the Prime Minister. Today’s meeting was in effect not merely to set targets for the infrastructure sector but also to dispel a feeling that the Prime Minister wasn’t decisive. Industry captains and Opposition leaders have in the past accused Singh’s government of policy paralysis.

Singh today told the meet: “There is need to create an atmosphere conducive to investment and to removing bottlenecks… these will turn around India.” The Prime Minister, who was well aware that much of the policy paralysis his government is blamed for arose because of inter-ministry squabbles, added: “Expect them (ministers) to expeditiously resolve any inter-ministerial differences that might arise.”

Ahluwalia, who had been finance secretary when Singh headed the ministry, made a detailed presentation before the gathering, in which he pointed out the detailed process through which these targets were finalised and the “high level of ambition” they represent.