Plan panel and Highways Ministry locked in verbal duel

"...available resources, if they are used sensibly then we will get a significant improvement in what has been going on...," Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told PTI.

Nath had reportedly said yesterday that the Plan panel should confine itself to planning rather than commenting on road projects. Ahuluwalia said the Commission is there to do the task as assigned to it. "We are here exactly for what we have been meant to do," he said.

"I think if they listen to our advise they can," he said in reply to a query whether the Ministry was going to achieve the ambitious targets to construct 32,936 km roads in the remaining period of the 11th Plan (2007-12), as announced by Nath.

He, however, refused to comment on Nath's remarks carried by a section of media saying, "I am not aware that he has said anything about the Planning Commission. I don’t know where he said. He has not said that to me."

About the Ministry's proposal for allocation of Rs 10,000 crore to infrastructure finance company IIFCL, Ahluwalia said it was meant to finance projects under public-private partnership (PPP) mode and not to government entities like National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

Earlier, the Commission has turned down a proposal from the Ministry asking the IIFCL to provide Rs 10,000 crore to the NHAI. "The note of the Ministry proposes allocation of Rs 10,000 crore from IIFCL to NHAI. This contradicts the stated purpose of IIFCL which is to provide supplementary financing to PPP projects and not to government entities. This proposal is not acceptable," Ahluwalia had written to the Ministry.

About Road Ministry's progress, Ahluwalia said, "We are reviewing it regularly...We are hopeful that we will get much better performance on roads this year."

Earlier, not impressed by the ambitious plans announced by Nath, the Commission had advised the Ministry to fix a "reasonable target" for construction of roads this year.
It pointed out to the Ministry that it would not be able to award road construction contracts for more than 3,794 km in 2009-10 against a target of 12,652 km.

The Ministry, the communication said, should adopt a programme fully in line with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day statement in which he had said, "initiate action to construct 20 km per day (7,500 km per year)." Nath had unveiled his Ministry's work plans for award of projects to construct 32,936 km of roads by March 31, 2012.

Terming it "unrealisable", the Commission had suggested that the target be reduced to 19,250 km.
Nath has made several announcements, including construction of 35,000 km of highways in five years and award of several mega projects, besides investment of Rs 2 lakh crore in the sector in the next two years.

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