Bharatmala or Sagarmala? Ministries face turf issue in Rs 7-trn initiative

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The Rs 7-trillion (Rs 7-lakh crore) Bharatmala initiative, an umbrella programme of the Union government, has some projects that have been completed and others that are already under the bidding process. For the shipping ministry, which had awarded the last-mile port connectivity projects under the Bharatmala scheme, it could mean that the credit of its labour would go to the ministry of road transport and highways. 

A total of 94 port-related projects were identified under Sagarmala, of which 49 projects are now under the Bharatmala scheme and, hence, would come in the ambit of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the ministry of road transport and highways.

According to an official, the two ministries might work out a solution in order to deal with the overlap of projects and administrative jurisdiction. However, experts feel that it is ideal to merge the projects within these two sectors as there is one minister and it would lead to better synergy between the two ministries. "The operation and maintenance of projects can be done under Bharatmala by the road ministry and NHAI, which will address the issue of overlap between the two schemes," former shipping secretary Vishwapati Trivedi said. 

In October 2017, the Union Cabinet cleared the Bharatmala project to construct 20,000 km of highways connecting western and eastern parts of the country at an estimated cost of Rs 7 trillion (Rs 7 lakh crore). In the first phase to be undertaken over three-five years, the project would cost Rs 5.5 trillion (Rs 5.5 lakh crore).

The scheme would be funded through various sources, including Rs 2.09 trillion (Rs 2.09 lakh crore) from the market, Rs 1.06 trillion (Rs 1.06 lakh crore) through private investment, and Rs 2.19 trillion (Rs 2.19 lakh crore) from the central road fund or toll collection.

In March 2015, the Union Cabinet approved the Sagarmala project, which envisaged port-led development at the country's 12 major ports – Kandla, Mumbai, JNPT, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Ennore, V O Chidambaranar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Kolkata (including Haldia) – as well as 1,208 islands identified for development.

Bharatmala is the largest highways project after the National Highway Development Programme (NHDP), which saw the development of about 50,000 km, with the aim of improving connectivity through four and six laning of national highways and border roads. 

The Bharatmala project, which was first mooted in April 2015, aims to connect Gujarat and Rajasthan, then move to Punjab and cover Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Then, it would move further to Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and right up to the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram. 

The aim is to improve the speed of traffic flow on key corridors by providing uniform four-lane roads between two identified points.  

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