Nitin Gadkari, India’s ‘Bulldozer’, Promises to Add 2 Percentage Points to Growth

NAGPUR:02 Sep 2015. The man Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tasked with launching a China-style infrastructure boom calls himself a “bulldozer” and promises to add two percentage points to economic growth in two years.

Nitin Gadkari, India's 'Bulldozer', Promises to Add 2 Percentage Points to Growth

“I am a man of my word,” union minister Nitin Gadkari told news agency Reuters on a trip to his home district in Maharashtra, the state where he made a reputation for getting the job done. “If I fail, fall short on any of the promises, you can change my name.”

PM Modi chose the 58-year-old former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party as Transport and Shipping Minister after winning last year’s general election on a promise of growth and jobs for aspiring Indians.

Fifteen months after taking power, the PM’s credibility as an economic manager is on the line, with economic growth faltering and slow reforms, the result of the government’s inability to collect political consensus for key reforms.

That is increasing pressure on Mr Gadkari to deliver results to back up Mr Modi’s promises to build 100 ‘smart’ cities in India connected by a network of highways and high-speed rail links. He has money to play with: spending on roads and bridges has been doubled this fiscal year.

“The intent has been there and the right kind of policies are being pursued,” said Sandeep Upadhyay, managing director at the Centrum Infra Advisory Ltd. consultancy. “Still, you may never be able to see again the euphoria that we witnessed in 2008-09,” he added, referring to a credit-fuelled infrastructure boom under the last government.

In a cabinet crowded with first-time ministers, Mr Gadkari stands out sometimes not just because of his experience in steering the BJP but a penchant for offbeat comments, including saying he waters the plants in his garden with urine to make them grow faster.

As construction minister of Maharashtra between 1995 and 1999, Mr Gadkari built India’s first high-speed concrete highway, from Mumbai to Pune, earning another nickname: “Flyover Minister”.
In his current job, he inherited Rs. 3.77 lakh crore in projects stalled by land and environmental disputes.

The government has sought to unblock those projects and bridge the funding gap by hiking its own spending on infrastructure by nearly Rs. 73,000 crore this year.

Even after speedier clearances and a decision to bail out stressed schemes, road projects worth over Rs. 60,000 crore are mired in land shortages and red tape. “There are banks, there are court cases,” Mr Gadkari said on board a six-seater charter plane. “That’s why it is very difficult and very complicated.”

Adding to the challenge is the government’s retreat on plans to make it easier for businesses to buy land. After failing to win support in parliament, Mr Modi has given up on legislation that would cover the whole country.

Putting a brave face on the setback, Mr Gadkari said that individual Indian states would take the lead in easing the law on land purchases. “There will be no difficulty in acquiring land for infrastructure projects,” he said.

Mr Gadkari wants to speed up the pace of road-building to over 30 km (18.6 miles) a day by next March from 14 km a day at present, and complete Rs. 4.96 lakh crore worth of infrastructure projects over the next three years.

The slow-moving bureaucracy also remains a problem. There has been little progress, for example, on a proposal to restructure the way state-run ports are managed. Mr Gadkari acknowledged problems with the administrative set-up and the need to overhaul it.

“This is a very difficult task because there is a difference between my speed and their speed,” he said. “I want them to be aggressive and on top of their speed. I believe in a do-or-die kind of strategy.”