Keep the infra-wheels running despite the third wave of Covid

The latest growth figures for the second quarter with GDP growth of 8.4% show that India could be on the way to economic recovery. While experts may debate whether its pace is largely due to a tight base, everyone should be concerned about whether the galloping Omicron strain of the coronavirus has the potential to create great economic uncertainty.

With all this uncertainty, infrastructure may be the engine of growth and economic recovery for India in 2022. John F. Kennedy once said, “American roads are not good because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good.” This also applies to India. Because a good infrastructure can stimulate growth, improve life and increase influence.

Infrastructure, both physical and financial, was one of the six pillars of the Union’s 2021 budget. Several government announcements – PM Gati Shakti, National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) and Production-Linked Incentives (PLI) – are related to infrastructure. Measured by the current indicators, infrastructure will remain a focus in the budget in a month from now.

Although we have set ambitious goals, we will find that there is a lack of implementation. Consider divesting. While the Air India divestment is a big step forward, we are nowhere near in terms of divestment targets for the year as a whole.

There are a number of ambitious infrastructure projects. Let me give you a few examples. General permits have been granted for 21 greenfield airports across the country. Projects valued at ₹ 7 lakh crore due to be completed over the next three years are expected to be in the pipeline. As part of the Bharatmala project, almost 8,400 expressways are being built in the green field. Work is underway on a 16,000 km long natural gas pipeline.

Even if a third wave of Covid hits us, the infrastructure projects must continue unhindered. A mechanism can be found to isolate them from the outside world. We could prioritize the workers working on these infrastructure projects for booster doses. This will go a long way in helping India absorb the economic shock the third wave is likely to inflict on us. Another benefit of continuing infrastructure projects would be to address and forestall another migrant workers crisis.

We also need to find ways to cut costs. With PM Gati Shakti, the logistics costs are to be reduced from 13% to 8% in the next few years. We need to think about measures to attract investment in private rail lines that connect ports to factories.

Any discussion of infrastructure will be incomplete without including health infrastructure. We now plan to have a medical college in every district and an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims) in every state. Now both the center and states must consider increasing budget allocations for health care. Likewise, education should draw the attention of policymakers to the new challenges that the pandemic continues to pose.

If the coronavirus has done us anything, it’s shaking us up out of convenience. The past two years have created enormous uncertainty. We have now learned to live with insecurities. This is where human will, the ability and willingness to innovate and concentrated determination come into play. We need to make sure that our infrastructure builds, no matter how bad the third wave, proceeds as planned.

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