Economic Editors’ Conference-2012, in New Delhi on October 08, 2012

It’s an honor to be here at the Economic Editor’s Conference and interact with all of you who keep an eye on the economic pulse of the nation.

I address this August gathering as the Union Minister for Road Transport &Highways and Railways.

Both these Ministries play a pivotal role in developing the infrastructure and connectivity which help a great deal in boosting the economy of the country.

I will start my address with ministry of road transport and highways, but can assure you that our approach for the railways will be no different.

From the common man to billion dollar conglomerates everyone is welcome at the Ministry of Road transport & Highways. This isn’t merely for the sake of speaking take a look at our performance.

To begin with I will share our initiative of E-tendering with you.

This endeavor of ours inviting tenders electronically has brought in more bidders to the table in turn rising the tune of business. Till date 525 tenders have been floated and we are set to generate business of around Rupees1,00,000 (One Lakh) crores from the same.

This example gives you an idea of how we are trying to weave an inclusive system for growth and betterment of all stakeholders.

Our National Highways constitute merely 1.7 % of length of road network, but they carry 40% of traffic on roads. This provides an immense Potential for growth & development of road network and we are striving to excel.

At our ministry we are not only working towards making the most of the opportunity but also ensuring that we do so in a transparent way giving equal opportunity to all and also involving the end users – the people.

Staying with the public we have pushed for the Public Private Partnership model & policy framework.

Ladies and gentlemen with this initiative 8,000 kilometers have been awarded in the last one year and it is estimated to generate approximately Rs. 80,000 crores.

Awards of roads aside under the National Highways Development Programme from June 2004 to September 2012 we have built 10,687 kilometers of quality highways with an investment of Rupees 6,1780 crores.

Another major step we are taking up is to launch a large program of public funded projects under the Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) or turnkey mode.

A new EPC Contract document has been finalized on fixed cost and time basis to replace the traditional item rate contracts which have the issues of time and cost over runs.

We are planning to award about 4000 Kilometers of roads for two laning on EPC mode in the current financial year.
To expedite this we have issued a general Request for Qualification based on capacity rather than individual project specific. The evaluations would be done in a transparent manner and will be posted on our website so that the bidder has opportunity to represent.

The qualified bidders would automatically be eligible for any project up to the capacity for which they have been qualified.

Friends let me bring in a matter of policy here as an important policy matter we have decided that the existing National Highways and those in pipeline will be taken to minimum level of 2-lane with paved shoulder specifications.
While undertaking new projects we aim to connect the remote parts of the country with the mainstream and be a partner in the development process.

You will be aware last week we laid the foundation of Z-Morh tunnel project at Sonmerg, in Jammu & Kashmir. There the 6.5 Kilometers tunnel along with 6 Kilometers approach road is being built at a cost of Rs 2700 crores on BOT Annuity basis.

In the same vein a still larger and more complex tunnel project at Zozila Pass having 13 Km length and a total project cost of Rs 5500 Crores is also being envisaged to be initiated next year.

These two tunnels together will provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil-Leh-Ladakh region which at present remains cut off for 6 months in a year due to bad weather and landslides.

Likewise upcoming tunnels between Qazigund-Banihal and Chennani – Nashari will reduce the travel distance between Srinagar and Jammu by 46 Kilometers.

Along with building new roads our Ministry is giving high priority to road safety issues. We have identified 25 black spots each in 13 accident prone States and are actively rectifying these places.

Safety awareness campaigns have been launched across various media platforms. I am happy to sayx that in many States our efforts have shown results and road accidents and casualties have come down.

We have introduced number of Information Communication and Technology initiatives.

First, owing to the e-procurement and e-tendering initiative, about 525 tenders have been floated by NHAI electronically. As a direct result of competitive bidding and number of applications going up NHAI will receive Rupees 3,000 Crores per year for next 25 years as premium in various highway projects.

I will like to share that our e tendering system has been audited by the World Bank.

Second ICT initiative is that by 2014 all tolls plazas on National Highways will collect toll electronically using the RFID technology. This will eliminate long queues on toll plaza and enabling hassle free travel on highways.

These initiatives have helped but looking at the recent global economic conditions there have been few challenges in Project Financing, Land Acquisition, Arbitration Claims, Merger and Transfer of Projects etc.

Let me assure you that the government is addressing these issues and is in dialogue with concessionaires, lenders and regulatory agencies.

Concluding my talk on roads I’ll like to share our attempt to connect with the end users – people via Facebook.
The NHAI Facebook page since its inception in January last year has had over 14 lakh visitors there are around 5000 people registered on the same contributing with their suggestions.

Friends, with this I will now shift my talk towards Railways.

I have assumed charge recently and let me again say what I said on Day One that safety and amenities of passengers will be our top priority.

Having said that I am in consultation with my colleagues at the Railways ministry and aware of the constraints and expectations of people; we will try to strike a balance between the two.

One of the biggest hazards to safety are the unmanned railway crossings and our long term goal is to man them. At present we are exploring various measures to address the issue.

Before embarking on any major decisions I am familiarizing myself with the functioning of the Railways for each ministry has a unique way of functioning and decision making.

Friends you will agree that along with safety modernization is the need of the hour.

I am aware of the two important reports one on modernization by Pitroda Committee and other on Rail safety by Kakodkar committee.

Both these reports are with my ministry and are being actively deliberated on.

After consultations we have decided to
Constitute Rail Tariff authority,
Issue on priority the RFQ for Mumbai elevated rail corridor,
Accelerate work on the seven high speed corridors and
To monitor Dedicated Freight Corridor.

As I conclude let me reassure you that we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that highest stands of safety are maintained, we work collectively towards modernization and develop lasting infrastructure that plays catalyst in the development story.

We are determined that the wheel of development rolls steadily taking everyone along on the path of prosperity.
Thank you.