New Delhi, Feb 1 (PTI) Listing road building as a priority area, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the Narendra Modi government has “scaled new heights” in the sector and was confident of building more than 9,000 km of highways in 2017-18.

Tabling the government’s last full budget ahead of 2019 general elections, Jaitley also said the ambitious Bharatmala project was going to be milestone for connectivity in the country.

“Our government has scaled new heights in development of road infrastructure sector. We are confident to complete National Highways exceeding 9,000 km length during 2017-18,” Jaitley said.

He said the ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojna has been approved for proving seamless connectivity of interior and backward areas and borders of the country to develop about 35,000 km in phase one at an estimated cost of about Rs 5.35 lakh crore.

“To raise equity from the market for its mature assets, NHAI will consider organising its road assets into special purpose vehicles and use innovative monetising structures like Toll Operate and Transfer (TOT) and Infrastructure Investment Funds (InvITs),” Jaitley said.

Terming the Budget as “pro poor, pro people” and excellent for the benefit of masses, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said: “Infrastructure got priority like always.

The budget for highways has been increased by about Rs 7,000 crore.”

The budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been increased to Rs 71,000 crore for 2018-19 from Rs 64,900 crore in the ongoing fiscal.

Gadkari said, “Higher allocation for infrastructure will augment it, will create new employment potential” and the sector will contribute significantly to the economy.

The FM said government will unveil the policy of ‘pay as you use’ for highway toll payments and that the system of toll payments physically by cash at road toll plazas are being fast replaced with Fastags and other electronic payment systems to make road travels seamless.

“Number of Fastags has gone up from about 60,000 in December 2016 to more than 10 lakh now. From December 2017, all class ‘M’ and ‘N’ vehicles are being sold with only with the Fastags. The government will come out with a policy to introduce toll system on ‘pay as you use’ basis,” the minister said.

Jaitley also estimated that India will need Rs 50 lakh crore in investments in roads, air, rail and inland waterways while hinting that the money would be raised as equity from the market.

“Infrastructure is the growth driver of the economy. Our country needs massive investment in excess of Rs 50 lakh crore in infrastructure to increase growth of GDP and integrate the nation with a network of roads, airports, railways, inland water and to provide good quality services to the people,” the minister said.

He said the priority accorded to the sector including highways was evident from the fact that the Prime Minister personally reviews the target and achievements in infrastructure sector on a regular basis.

The FM added in order to create employment and aid growth, the government has increased budgetary and extra budgetary expenditure on infrastructure for 2018-19 to Rs 5.97 lakh crore from Rs 4.94 lakh crore in 2017-18.

As per the Budget document, Rs 21,453.42 crore out of Rs 71,000 crore budgetary allocation to the Highways Ministry has been allocated for works under road wing.

“The provision is for expenditure on development of National Highways, including projects relating to expressways and 6 laning of crowded stretches of Golden Quadrilateral and 2 laning of highways works under National Highways Development Project, special programme for development of road connectivity in Naxalite affected areas, development of Vijaywada-Ranchi Road and for providing last mile connectivity,” it added.

This also includes the provision for Tribal component relating to development of road connectivity in Left Wing Extremism affected areas, NH works in NE States, Rajasthan, Madhaya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, etc.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.