Budget 2019

Budget expectations: Focus on safety, sustainability and growth

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on June 26, 2019 Published on June 25, 2019

The govt must also allocate more funds, push land reforms and bring clarity in its investment policies

In the first Budget of the second term of the Modi-led government, the focus should be on the unfinished agenda for transport infrastructure — ensuring safety for all users, particularly road, sustainability and growth.

Infrastructure fuels economy, driving up the demand for materials including coal, steel and cement. It also creates jobs and has wider economic benefits for users.

Deaths on road

India is a large country, several parts of which are well connected by wide roads, and several parts of which are yet to have good quality roads. But, a large number of people in the country — almost 1.5 lakh — lose their life due to road accidents. In this context, it would be interesting to see where road safety figures in the Budget. Several agencies, including SaveLife Foundation, an NGO in the road safety zone, and SP Singh, Senior Fellow, IFTRT, have stressed the need to implement road safety norms. An unimplemented proposal has been to dedicate a fraction of funds from the road (now infrastructure) cess for road safety.

For connecting newer villages, the Road Ministry has started building expressways through newer alignments, which while lowering land acquisition cost for newer roads, will also connect backward areas. Hopefully the process of land acquisition will become easier, making it easy to build infrastructure.

Raunak Varma, Country Manager, CNH Industrial India, a company that makes construction equipment, called for land reforms, clarity and ease in investments policies to guarantee a stable environment for its manufacturing projects. It also called for shielding private sector from regulatory changes, instead of making them bear the impact.

Tax air to fund rail

While road plays an important role, the Railways connect the entire country in one network, moving billions of people — with options that are faster, and sometimes cheaper than road travel; and also more attractive than air travel in many ways except the time.

Despite the availability of Budget airlines, finding a reserved train ticket has been a challenge more often than not. Train tickets have become lucrative enough for people to specialise in gaming the system and sell them at higher prices than what railways offers them at. For instance, recently, the Railway Police Force, armed with inputs from IT cell, found 387 touts who had done business worth ₹3.2 crore. These software savvy touts were gaming the IRCTC Web site by acting as normal passengers to grab reserved tickets by using special software.

This brings us to the the case of sustainability. There is a need for the government to put a price to the carbon dioxide emitted and accordingly promote sustainable forms of transport and public transport, something that was flagged by President Ramnath Kovind in his opening address of this Parliament session.

Another transport sector expert, Raj Khalid, Representative-India, Antwerp Port, told BusinessLine in the backdrop of grounding of Jet Airways, “We need more train travel and in fact an increase in taxes on domestic flights will allow India to use this money to improve the trains and make them faster, safer and more comfortable.” It is a move that scores high in the sustainable scale. All of this requires government to allocate funds to various sectors accordingly in this Budget.

Ship-financing

Shipping, among other transport modes, is the most sustainable. To up the case of Indian shipping companies, Anil Devli of Indian National Shipping Association, has flagged one main issue — making available long-term and cheaper fund for ship financing. This could be done by recreating a body like the Shipping Credit and Investment Corporation of India, an organisation that existed till it was merged with ICICI and got lost in the process. “We do not want infrastructure status. We want specialised, longer tenor, cheaper shipping finance, just like foreign shipping firms,” explained Devli. INSA estimates that about $50 billion is spent every year to ship goods from and to India. Of this, about 90 per cent is managed by foreign-flagged ships.

Another industry veteran, Ravi K Mehrotra, Executive Chairman of Foresight Group International Ltd, called for removal of five per cent GST on import of ships. This is a deterrent for owners to bring ships under the Indian flag although a lot of bulk cargoes for large ships originate here, he said adding that these are ships that Indian shipyards cannot build.

Published on June 25, 2019
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