Infra projects need a unified management

Alkesh Kumar Sharma | Updated on November 14, 2019

To deal with delays, globally accepted project and programme management practices must be adopted

Over the years, the infrastructure sector has emerged as a key driver of India’s economic growth, making it one of the favoured investment destinations of the world. Accordingly, the government has introduced favourable policy initiatives like the Make in India and flexible FDI norms to ensure time-bound creation of world-class infrastructure.

While India has been significantly investing in its infrastructure, the challenge is to mobilise big investments and address the gaps through innovative approaches.

The Centre has committed a massive investment of ₹5.97 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector for the current fiscal. An estimated ₹304 lakh crore is required in the sector till 2040 to sustain the country’s development. Various programmes like Power for All, Bharatmala (₹5.35 lakh crore for Phase 1), Sagarmala (₹8 lakh crore), Smart Cities Mission (₹2.03 lakh crore), Industrial Corridors (₹6 lakh crore), Housing for All and the Swachch Bharat Mission have been launched to build world-class infrastructure. However, the track record of timely completion of projects is abysmal, due to multiple challenges like regulatory clearances, land acquisition, and resettlement and rehabilitation.

A December 2018 report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, based on its review of 1,424 Central infrastructure sector projects worth over ₹150 crore, observed that more than 25 per cent of these projects were delayed with a cost overrun of over ₹3.17 lakh crore.

Issues in implementation

Common issues facing most projects, particularly government-sponsored projects, are time delays and cost overruns. Any industrial activity in India requires multiple clearances right from concept to commission. Implementation status of most of the projects reveals gaps in the application of project management practices. Therefore, utilising globally accepted project and programme management (PPM) practices in large-scale infrastructure initiatives is crucial to sustain India’s high-growth trajectory. Such practices will bring in synergies and a common language to all complex programmes.

Alongside, an enabling policy framework would be required to consider global standards on PPM for effective execution of government/public sector/PPP projects. Further, a project management course should be introduced in senior school-level curriculum to develop an industry-ready workforce. India will need 70 lakh skilled project managers in the next 10 years to avoid delays and escalation of budgets for projects in key sectors like roads, railways, IT and manufacturing. Also, effective initial research, including site investigation, risk analysis, land acquisition and regulatory clearances, should be done before implementation.

A quality project management team is essential. Project managers must be approved by the implementing agency based on the skills necessary to deliver the project. Communication between the implementing agency and the contractor must increase in frequency. Timely completion of projects must be incentivised to encourage a culture of early project delivery.

For instance, in the UK, the state-owned Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) prioritises the effective delivery of projects through establishment of five core teams (Finance and International, Operations, Project Profession and Standards, Strategy & Policy, and Infrastructure Delivery). The introduction of a regulatory body to monitor project progress encourages efficiency.

Coordinated management

Effective project management techniques include values such as transparency, accountability, proper use of resources and maintenance of public confidence. For this, the private sector has launched the International Project Management Association (IPMA). With members from over 60 countries, it promotes the project management profession by preparing standard guidelines known as the IPMA Competence Baseline (ICB). It has significantly impacted the project delivery systems in many developed and developing countries.

Programme management is a systematic orchestration of human resources, time, money and information to plan, design, construct, and deliver projects. Focus on adoption of PPM is more critical in mega projects, which require a higher level of skill and competence. One such mega complex project involving multiple infrastructure projects and various stakeholders is the Shendra Industrial Area, the first greenfield industrial smart city project under the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor project. It was completed ahead of schedule and recently dedicated to the nation by the Prime Minister.

The NITI Aayog has constituted a task force to bring a result-oriented approach and effective delivery of projects within time and budget for Central/State governments and PSUs. In its first recommendation report, it has called for adoption of project management approaches in managing complex infrastructure projects in India. It will also develop a national project management policy framework in the country.

The writer is a senior IAS officer and the former CEO-MD of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation. Views are personal

Published on November 14, 2019

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