Public Infrastructure in India – Say NO to Delays

Public Infrastructure in India needs to be built at a very rapid pace over next few years to quickly close the gap and recover some part of the last 10 years of ‘policy paralysis’ that had plagued the country.

With the attached article, I would like to present a case example of how public infrastructure is planned and how activism ends up creating a loop of mere discussions and thus delays. Without realising, the delays lead to what we know as ‘no action condition’. This condition arrived at due to a deadlock, is more damaging, both socially and environmentally. In fact, this condition is definitely more harmful than moving ahead on a public infrastructure project which may be perceived as a social or environmental threat in the short term.

Any public infrastructure project has a life of its own. It’s conceived,usually as a reaction to an issue, like traffic congestion. So the need of the project is immediate and urgent. But the democratic processes and the various permissions, reviews and ensuing discussions usually creates a loop of anywhere between 3-5 years forth project to actually start becoming a reality.

Now this is the crucial timing for the project to take off. If it doesn’t, it’s need starts to become irrelevant. And if further delays happen, the overrun costs and the original design starts to make the project unattractive. So the success, even is partial, of this public infra project now squarely depends upon its ability to get off ground and get built as soon as possible. If this crucial timing is lost, the project should be officially scrapped and newly designed to suit the new requirements.

In case of public infrastructure projects that are aimed at long term benefits versus short term demand, the timing and its success is even more crucial. Since it is a future looking project, it’s short term benefits are rarely attractive. Whereas,it’s short term disadvantages are glaringly apparent. So it takes a very different approach for governments to put up such future oriented public infrastructure projects.

We often visit other countries and marvel at the future planning seen in some of the cities, while rueing the lack of it in India. But the truth is that Indian society rarely supports expenditure and planning that’s aimed at the future.

Let’s look at the case of the PuneMetro project. When it was conceived almost 10-12 years ago, people questioned its need for the then traffic situation in the city. As the project moved past its various hurdles of permissions, funding, protests, it emerged 10 years later to a very different and pressing traffic situation of the city. That critical juncture for the PuneMetro project is NOW! If it can become a reality, it should become one immediately. Not tomorrow or day after, but Today!

Like for any public infra project, this projects needs political will and social willingness. Even if one is missing, the project will not be a success. To begin the debates on planning this project differently now is akin to a fresh start. Keeping the fact that every public infra projects takes 3-5 years minimum to see the light of day, PuneMetro redesign will mean going into a loop with no end to the tunnel in sight.

Another crucial aspect to success of any public infra project is the fact that the timing of the need, the political will and the available funding needs to match. Like with other projects, designs and plans will vary. Each route and every technology will have alternatives, but at the end, shots will have to be called and decisions will have to be made to see projects become reality.

The reason why we Indians chose to overturn a government stuck in policy paralysis was precisely this. No government decision is absolutely fool proof. No project design is completely without faults. But the criticality of public infra lies in its timing. If we miss it, we have lost the plot!

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