Explained: How ‘Gati Shakti’ Will Actually Work On The Ground

Snapshot

Building infrastructure is not enough. It needs to be rightly aligned with future potential to be translated into growth.

It needs planning and coordination, right from the Centre to the states. That is precisely the aim of Gati Shakti.

 

The Vidyasagar bridge on the Ganga, in Kolkata, was designed tall enough to allow the movement of ships to the river port. The project took three decades to complete, beginning from the planning stage. In 1992, when the bridge was opened for use, ships became too big for rivers.

During 1996-98, the Steel Ministry decided to set up a manufacturing unit in Assam. After spending a good amount of time and money in land acquisition and development, it was found that the acquired area was a natural swampy land of Brahmaputra and goes underwater for months in the monsoon.

From a poor country, China became an emerging superpower in 30 years. Vietnam quadrupled exports in 10 years. South Korea, Taiwan all transformed in the quickest possible time. But three decades after liberalisation such transformational change is not visible in India. One of the key reasons behind this is our failure to build infrastructure efficiently and quickly.

The Narendra Modi government started addressing this weakness from day one. Major infrastructure projects, including those with security implications, which were lagging for years, started coming up in a hurry. Till 2014, Assam had three bridges on the Brahmaputra. It now has six. In another five years, it will have at least nine. Preparations are on for more.

Gati Shakti — A Process Reform

But building infrastructure is not enough. It needs to be rightly aligned with future potential to be translated into growth. It needs planning and coordination, right from the Centre to the states. “PM Gati Shakti — National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity” is the biggest step taken so far in that direction. Behind the cumbersome name lies India’s administrative or process reform that will bring about a change in the way development was pursued in this country for the last 75 years.

This is no stray attempt. The digital initiatives of the government, the recent change in the tendering guidelines that gave quality precedence over price (the infamous L1), review of the role of NITI Aayog; FASTag electronic toll collection system in the highways, limiting file passing — all are linked to it.

The core of the reform is based on the principles of collaboration, coordination and real-time, data-backed, target-oriented, project planning and execution. The initiatives were already in practice, but informally. Now the government institutionalised it and broke the inter-ministerial boundaries.

The reform is far from over. The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) is being reshaped as the secretariat of the empowered group of secretaries (EGOs). The logistics division of the Commerce Ministry will be part of the DPIIT and will solely focus on projects under Gati Shakti.

The published list of EGOs has only 16 ministries. This includes four major transport-related ministries (highways, shipping, railways, aviation), other ministries linked to connectivity (like oil and gas and telecom) and focus user industries (like food processing, tourism, defence production, fisheries, textiles, pharmaceuticals) under Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme.

However, this is just the beginning. All major ministries (like coal, steel etc) will be linked to the Network Planning Group (NPG) of Gati Shakti. The planning and implementation of major overseas infrastructure projects (like Trilateral Highway in Myanmar) sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs will be monitored through this mechanism.

Spatial planning tools with ISRO imagery developed by BiSAG-N (Bhaskaracharya National Institute for Space Applications and Geoinformatics) aided with real-time data generated by various digital initiatives like FASTag, E-way bills etc will be the backbone of Gati Shakti.

The bottom line is clear. Over the next couple of years, Gati Shakti will rule every policy space related to India’s economic growth, forcing wide-ranging changes in the planning and execution of government projects upto the state level.

The role of states is extremely important here in ensuring last-mile connectivity. For example, the road or electricity connection to a growth centre is provided by the state.

Under Gati Shakti, states will have access to the same spatial tools to align their development initiatives with the national plan and propose new projects. A framework may also be rolled out to bring states on board for consultation and collaboration.

Major Change Underway

The Modi government introduced an era of quick decision making and deadline-oriented delivery of projects and programmes. Breaking departmental silos was crucial to this change. The PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation) portal launched in 2015, ensured constant watch on implementing agencies.

Through Gati Shakti, the government is essentially creating a platform for collaborative working. If power plants are facing a fuel shortage, then the coal, rail, and power ministries together have to find out a workable strategy. Availability of quality data will eliminate arbitrariness in decision-making and will improve the outcome.

The model can bring far-reaching benefits to the common man, if replicated by states. For example, the location of an irrigation dam is often influenced by local politics. In the past, governments announced new passenger trains and even new lines purely on political consideration. Such incidents should not repeat in the Gati Shakti era and it will likely put a full-stop to such wasteful expenditure.