Date:19/05/2008 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/biz/2008/05/19/stories/2008051950111600.htm
Bureaucratic bottlenecks come in way of projects
For timely completion, developers and contractors need more help
The Civil Aviation Ministry and the Planning Commission, or more particularly Aviation Minister Praful Patel and the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman M. S. Ahluwalia, have had a spat over the delays in the implementation of the Delhi and Mumbai airport expansion projects.
This has also spilled over to the clearance for the expansion of the Kolkata and Chennai airports. In effect, it boils down to a blame game between the two authorities that should be ensuring the speedy completion of such critical infrastructure projects.
Though a sad reflection on the state of affairs as it is, this development also throws light on the systemic and bureaucratic bottlenecks in the execution of major infrastructure projects.
It should have come as some relief that the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad has got off the ground, though not without some hiccups. But they were quickly resolved, along with the other teething problems. The Bengaluru International Airport should open to traffic by the end of May.
A few problems however need to be resolved before then.
After making itself clear that there can be no reneging on signed agreements, the Union Civil Aviation Ministry wants to have the cake and eat it too — suggesting that the old HAL airport can also remain open to traffic, at least for the short haul or low cost airlines.
It may only be reflecting the views of the travelling public, or even the airport employees’ unions, but the authorities must have examined these aspects before signing any agreement.
At least now, the revised policy on airports does provide for a case-by-case sanction for airports within 150 km radius of existing one with both of them functioning.Policy framework
The new policy framework provides for what is called a steering committee to coordinate on airport projects.
Instead of airing their differences in public or accusing each other for the delays, all the agencies and ministries involved in such projects could get that apex forum set up swiftly to iron out these problems.
Though regular review of the projects is taking place and the private sector developers also get back to the ministries or the political leadership to find solutions to the problems they face, it may be much easier to handle it at the official level and early on to make sure molehills do not become mountains.
Instead of having individual reviews, an inter-ministerial panel can perhaps come up with faster solutions that find wider acceptance and quick implementation.
What happened in the recent “exchanges” was Mr. Patel blaming the Planning Commission for raising repeated objections and raising queries on the Delhi airport as well as the plans for Kolkata and Chennai, with Mr. Ahluwalia emphasising that these routine reviews do raise such questions that need to be addressed before execution of major project. Time schedule
Both Hyderabad and Bangalore airport developers have shown that it is possible to build greenfield airports in three years time. With better cooperation and interaction between government agencies and the developers, this process could even be speeded up a little. There are obvious differences between building greenfield airports, where there is no activity, and expanding or modernising existing airports that remain fully functional. Delhi and Mumbai fall into the second category, and so will Kolkata and Chennai. Plans have to be drawn keeping that in mind. To ensure timely completion of these projects, the developers and contractors need more, not less assistance from the authorities.
Before work on the Chennai and Kolkata airports begin, the Aviation Ministry will do well to resolve all these issues and make sure that the problems faced by Delhi and Mumbai do not crop up again in the other two metropolis. There is already a clear slippage in growth in the key infrastructure sectors of the economy, let not the aviation sector add on to this problem.