Plan panel and highways ministry locked in a verbal duel

The Planning Commission has advised 'sensible' use of funds by the road transport & highways ministry, a day after minister Kamal Nath rebuffed the panel

In a war of words, the Planning Commission on Wednesday has advised 'sensible' use of funds by the road transport & highways ministry, a day after minister Kamal Nath rebuffed the panel.

"If available resources are used sensibly, then we will get a significant improvement in what has been going on," Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Commission told PTI.

Mr Nath had reportedly said yesterday that the Commission should confine itself to planning rather than commenting on road projects.

Mr Ahluwalia said that the Commission was there to do the task assigned to it. "We are here exactly for what we have been meant to do," he said.

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

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

About the ministry's proposal for allocation of Rs10,000 crore to infrastructure finance company India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd (IIFCL), Mr Ahluwalia said that it was meant to finance projects under public-private partnership (PPP) mode and not to government entities like the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

Earlier, the Commission had turned down a proposal from the ministry asking IIFCL to provide Rs10,000 crore to the NHAI.

"The note of the ministry proposes allocation of Rs10,000 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," Mr Ahluwalia had written to the ministry.

About the road ministry's progress, Mr 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 Mr 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 3,794km in 2009-10 against a target of 12,652km.

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).”

Mr Nath had unveiled his ministry's work plans for award of projects to construct 32,936km of roads by 31 March 2012.

Terming it "unrealisable", the Commission had suggested that the target be reduced to 19,250km.

Mr Nath has made several announcements, including construction of 35,000km of highways in five years and award of several mega-projects, besides investment of Rs2 lakh crore in the sector over the next two years.
 

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