India is making a big push towards point-to-point mass rapid transport systems using renewable energy sources, including its first electric highway and Metrino pods. Firstpost caught up with Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, when he was in Stockholm for the India Unlimited Hackathon on Smart Cities, to speak about India's ambitious plans to boost its transport infrastructure. Gadkari said that the government is looking for solutions on Smart Cities and is '100 percent' willing to support and incubate research on them. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Q1: On the India Unlimited Hackathon — Certainly this provides a great platform for the government to tap into creative and innovate ideas for sustainable, smart cities and villages — What is going to be the government's biggest take away from this hackathon?
Gadkari: Indian talent is well recognised and respected, both within the country and abroad. We need lot of innovation, a new vision and cost effective technology, where smart cities are concerned and that is the reason we are encouraging talent. I feel such type of events would definitely provide us good solutions for the problems we face in India
Q2: There has been a lot of interest in smart cities. In fact researchers, young entrepreneurs, institutions are setting up projects to look for solutions towards building smart cities. Now if there are ideas of interest, would the government be open to incubating them?
Gadkari: 100 percent! I feel a lot of smart city projects are moving now. Some of these are executed by the urban development ministry, and some by state governments. We are making four to five smart cities. One is in Mumbai, second is in Kandla, Gujarat and third is in Paradip Port, Odisha. The situation is different in all these places. There are some strengths and some weaknesses but the plan is with us. We are looking at building hospitals and residences where we can recycle water, convert waste into energy, make green power, and make a special transport system. The most important thing in any country is ethics, economics, ecology and environment. For all these we need innovation, technology, research and science, or what we call knowledge. Conversion of knowledge into wealth is the future of the country. Now India is on the right track. Looking at the response of Indian talent, I feel there is a lot of potential, economic viability and future thought for development. And we will definitely encourage them and take advantage of all these ideas and use them in our policies.
Q 3: Well, that is very encouraging, especially for researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators. There is an existing proposal for 100 smart cities and now you are also talking about port cities. Could you elaborate on these port cities?
Gadkari: In Kandla we have one lakh hectre of land with us. We have two projects. One is modernisation, mechanisation and making new infrastructure for port-road and port-rail connectivity. This plan is for 4 lakh crores. The other plan is for 12 lakh crore where we are making 14 industrial clusters, including automobile clusters, petroleum clusters, steel clusters, timber clusters. Here we are planning to provide jobs to lakhs of people so we will need residential accommodation; we need sustainable housing which includes water, power, gardens and essential utilities needed for any city. So when people get employment they will have the capability to purchase homes. They once again create employment for others. So this is the way we plan to develop smart cities. Today, the problem in India is that we have five metro cities, wherein the population exceeds one crore. So we need to find a solution for decentralisation of these cities, and develop not just smart cities but also smart villages so that everyone doesn't have to come to Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai or Chennai. So we need thousands of smart cities and lakhs of smart villages so that we can provide a good social-economic vision for the country.
Q 4: If Indian cities need to borrow a leaf out of Sweden's transport system and look at urban transportation as a integrated entity what are the key changes we need to make and at what level have we progressed on this?
Gadkari: We are signing an agreement with the London Transport Authority for an integrated approach to transport. In India, in aviation there has been an increase by 22 percent, then we have railways, where there has been development. We are making national highways, taking the total length up to 200,000 kilometres from 96,000 kilometres. Now our idea is to make cycle tracks and focus on public transport. We want to encourage public transport, which runs on electricity like the skybus, metro, cable car, funicular railway. Electricity is cheap in India whereas currently we are importing petrol and diesel crude worth 7 lakh crores. We want a cost effective import substitute that is pollution free, indigenous and creates more employment. Also, inland waterways will be a great gamer changer. We are converting 20,000 kilometres of river into waterways as they are much cheaper and cost just 10 percent of the amount it takes to construct roads.
Q5: You did earlier mention an electric highway is on the cards. Could you elaborate on that?
Gadkari: We are planning to build express highways where we can make an electric system like railways, where there will be trucks, buses, double-decker buses running on electricity. That is the idea.
Q 6: Where will this be? Where will the pilot project be located?
Gadkari: Today I have discussed with Scania management. I offered them if they are interested, we are ready to sign an agreement, and we will do it.
Q 7: What would be the first city or area? Anything shortlisted?
Gadkari: That is still not finalised, but India has a huge potential. It is still not shortlisted, but we can make it in different parts of the country particularly the industrial corridor where there is heavy traffic. If we can convert this heavy traffic onto electric, it will be a cost-effective, pollution free import substitute that also creates jobs. In that case our logistics cost will reduce and we can increase our exports.
Q 8: There is a lot of talk about the Hyperloop and two companies have presented their proposal to India? Is India ready to leapfrog to a futuristic mode of transport?
Gadkari: We are 100 percent we are ready for it. We have offered them the road also, including the Mumbai-Pune express highway. But now we have received five technologies. Our idea is to take it from one point to another point, that is access-connectivity via electricity technology. Like a rope-way or cablecar, this is the metrino system (personal rapid transit system). We can use this in cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai. We have already received three tenders, one of them proposes to connect Dhaulakuan to Manesar, which we will soon finalise. We are open to all new technologies.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2017 13:14 PM