It now seems Mr Modi is in the same predicament as his hapless predecessor, who didn’t have the unfettered powers that Mr Modi enjoys.
There’s a pessimistic French saying plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change, the more they remain the same. This is true of today’s India, where Rs 9 lakh crores worth of 217 big-ticket projects are stuck at various stages even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept a lynx-eye watch on them.
This is sadly ironic as during his 2014 poll campaign Mr Modi had cashed in successfully on the non-performance of the second Manmohan Singh government that was characterised by its “policy paralysis”. Nothing moved. Mr Modi promised development, and that was what people craved for. It now seems Mr Modi is in the same predicament as his hapless predecessor, who didn’t have the unfettered powers that Mr Modi enjoys. Policy paralysis has come full circle. What’s most disconcerting is that it’s happening under Mr Modi’s watch. He takes almost monthly meetings with top Central and state officials, particularly on fast-tracking infrastructure projects. Yet 217 projects are stuck. Among them is the $100 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, conceived in 2006, which was to be ready by 2017. The new date is now set for 2019. The other is the Rs 16,000-crore Navi Mumbai International Airport that was to start operations in 2019. That now seems a pipedream as construction work started only in 2017, and even if they work 24x7 it would require a miracle to get it ready next year.
Mr Modi doesn’t seem to be doing anything to expedite these projects. We don’t know the details of why the projects are delayed, and the PM has recently sought delay details from various ministries. Delays are often due to the difficulty of getting land and other permissions, like for instance the go-ahead from the environment ministry. The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor is an example. A Singapore-based political risk firm said: “The DMIC in its entirety will continue to move ahead at a snail’s pace” as it has too many parts. This means too many parties are involved in the decision-making process.
But that’s where Mr Modi promised to bring change. The PMO is a coordinating agency. Why is it that despite monthly meetings on fast-tracking projects, they are moving at a snail’s pace? Why are the bureaucrats involved not being held accountable? Perhaps Mr Modi will be more effective in getting projects through if he sacked a few bureaucrats or officials responsible for the delay. Just shifting them to another department is an insult to that department.
Interestingly, most of the projects delayed are in the railways, highways and power sectors. Nitin Gadkari, who’s in charge of road transport, is one of the most effective ministers in the Modi Cabinet, so there must be a good reason for the delays over highways. It may be interesting to hear what explanation his ministry has to offer for the delays.