Framework improvement is a basic enabler to accomplish a USD 20 trillion economy by 2040. Last year, a step toward this was taken by flagging off the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan (NMP) in October 2021. The INR 100 lakh crore super arrangement was made along with a digital platform to unite different ministries and government departments for coordinated arranging and execution of tasks. To understand the concept and the idea behind it, it was only deemed necessary to reach out to Dr. Surendra Ahirwar, Joint Secretary-Logistics Division, DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Govt. of India. Dr. Ahirwar, in a candid interaction, not only helped us understand the current flow of possibilities but also shared his view on how PM Gati Shakti is establishing cooperative federalism in the nation’s democracy, and much more.
Q. How can PM Gati Shakti NMP bring down the high logistics costs borne by many in this country?
PM Gati Shakti is an approach or mechanism for the integrated development of logistics infrastructure and bringing about seamlessness in the logistics sector across the different modes of transportation. This seamlessness will be brought through rationalisation of processes as well as the development of infrastructure, including the inter-connecting infra called intermodal infrastructure, and also having commensurate processes for attaining that inter-modality effortlessly.
A substantial amount of logistics cost can be attributed to change of transportation modes, whether you shift from road to rail, or rail to ship, or ship to the road and again to rail – it involves multiple handling of goods, which does not only involve a cost of handling but also involves losses at the handling stations. So, that also becomes an additional cost to the logistics. All these things are going to be addressed through PM Gati Shakti which is the transformative approach for logistics sector development.
Further, we are looking at enhanced capacity of the infrastructure (all the modes of transportation) and rationalisation of processes (digitisation, development of human resource). Also, when there is enhanced capacity, you can attain higher speed under lesser transit time, and offer better services. Therefore, this will not only increase efficiency but also save on logistics costs.
Q. How is the PM Gati Shakti creating a culture of low-cost and time-bound implementation of the project?
Creating a culture of low-cost and time-bound implementation of the project is the focus area for PM Gati Shakti NMP, which looks at enabling a data-based decision support system, which is possible through a GIS-based digital platform that has been developed.
It has mapped all the details relating to existing infrastructure assets and geographical/demographical features in most places, either on the ground or underground. It also maps all the potential and planned projects by different ministers and their departments, including state governments and UTs. This is going to help the planners to plan any infrastructure in an integrated manner.
PM Gati Shakti also has an institutional arrangement. Besides the empowered group of secretaries, it also has a network planning group. It is a group of individuals who are planning heads of different infrastructure departments in GOI. These individuals discuss every infrastructure project proposal which has a value of more than INR 500 Cr. They discuss and scrutinise every project from the perspective of PM Gati Shakti’s principles.
Since this planning is hugely data-based along the alignment of networks – be it railways, roadways, shipping, ports, etc. – it makes the entire exercise very participative & collaborative. This makes the plans very rational, pragmatic, and implementable, thereby helping in reducing the chances of risk of time overruns and cost overruns.
It is also anticipating the area, type and cost of land which is to be acquired, and the risk involved with it. This advanced assessment made at the planning stage also enables the planners to decide on reasonable targets for the project and expedites the project implementation.
Q. How can the PM Gati Shakti NMP help boost agro-productivity and bring down cost-heavy burdens for farmers?
The focus area for PM Gati Shakti in general, and PM Gati Shakti NMP in particular is primarily on three sectors – Industry, Trade, and Agro. Though all these sectors require a specific infrastructure which may be considered as ‘end infrastructure’ (the terminals, hubs, storage areas, etc.), they also use a common infrastructure.
We have this approach and concern in mind to help both ways. We want to help with the creation of capacity, efficiencies, and the common infra required for all the sectors, including for the passenger transportation. In addition, we also have identified special focus areas for agriculture, mining, and the manufacturing.
So besides, general plans there are also sector-specific plans which are going to be spelt out in the National Logistics Policy, which we await. It helps and has a focus on the agro sector. The details of which could be out in subsequent time after it rolls outs.
Q. The premise of the PM Gati Shakti has always been a ‘transformative approach.’ Does this mean that there may be even more developments in the platform coming in subsequent years?
Any tool which is created to bring about transformation can not continue to bring transformation unless it transforms itself. So, it is so natural for the system also to evolve and continuously transform. One whose transformative and one who is adaptive only survive. Therefore this platform will survive. It is planned out of this transformation only and therefore brings about the desired transformation in the infrastructure or economy in general.
Q. How is the PM Gati Shakti is breaking departmental silos and synchronising planning and implementation?
I don’t want to use the word ‘Silos’. Let the departments be called departments, they are specialised and very respectable departments.
While specialisation is the desired thing in any organisation, greater specialisation is the evolution of that organisation. We start from the protozoan state and grow gradually in terms of specialisation, we evolve. So, in any government system around the world, the best one would be which has an emphasis and focus on specialisation but what happens gradually in course of time the super specialisation across various departments and further specialisation takes place.
As you specialise, you narrow your focus. Since we are already a very evolved government, we have reached a stage where we have super-specialised departments who are out to do in their domains, but there is a need of connecting them. And that need can only be fulfilled when there is communication among these specialised departments or the ministries.
So, PM Gati Shakti intends to bring in that seamless communication, in fact we are going beyond communication and trying to bring in collaboration among these ministries, without affecting their autonomy. So, this is not dismantling the silos but bringing in the specialised departments to collaborate and communicate intensively and churning out the best and integrated product in terms of infrastructure, with all networks, interconnecting lanes, and interconnected processes finally taking us to the seamlessness of processes.
Q. How is the PM Gati Shakti establishing cooperative federalism in India’s democratic system?
PM Gati Shakti is a collaboration, cooperation, and intensified communication among various levels and organisations who are engaged in doing their best in their domain without affecting their autonomy.
Cooperative Federalism, as we understand, is the political system where we have states as well – which is a reality – and we have to respect their autonomy. So, we have brought this digital platform and kind of institutional framework which has been created without any mandatory element or any direction being given to the states. The states have been convinced about doing such a thing that can yield great benefits.
So, based on the merit of the idea, these states have very well adopted the platform. As of now, all the states are on board with PM Gati Shakti NMP without exception, along with all UTs, ministries, the departments that look after the development of infrastructure, and the economic ministries who are consumers of these services – all are on board. It is not a dictated system, it is simply an information-based system that is for the benefit of all, all the state and citizenry in the state and all over the country.
This system cannot function without the necessary data being submitted by state governments also, they have all voluntarily agreed to supplement the data, therefore the platform is highly enriched. It must be one of the biggest data repositories in the country today about infrastructure, and other plans and information. This data will be put to use for the governance of projects or planning or implementation of the project as such.
Q. What are kind of ways the National Master Plan can be used for making sound decisions about the social sector?
The National Master Plan is meant to be enabling the integrated development of infrastructure through data-based decision making which brings about integrated planning. But cannot ignore the positive spin-offs that take from it. Since NMP is mapping all the infrastructure developments on and underground, it is going to help every sector, whether it is banking, telecom, education, panchayats, etc..
As it has a lot of demographic data, it might have a spin-off in terms of planning welfare schemes and targeting these schemes in a much more efficient and effective manner. So, It is a huge treasure of data that can be put to good use.
And, this data is very secure, as it includes all kinds of information which can be sensitive from a strategic and perspective. So, it is stored in an exclusive hardware server and not on the cloud. And, at present is not given access to people at large but is only being utilised by government departments and private sectors of government. We do plan to give comprehensive access to the planners, consultants, and developers who are involved in creating the infrastructure, after being authorised by the respective ministries and taking due care about the security of the data.