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Connectivity 'lifeblood' of economy; focus on highways: FM

twitter-logoPTI | July 5, 2019 | Updated 19:13 IST

New Delhi, July 5 (PTI) Terming connectivity as the "lifeblood" of the economy, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Friday said a massive push was being given to all sorts of connectivity, including highways. Tabling the Modi 2.0 government's maiden budget in Parliament, Sitharaman said a comprehensive restructuring of National Highways Programme was on the anvil to ensure that the National Highway Grid was formed. She also announced providing additional income tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest paid on loans taken to purchase electric vehicles to boost such vehicles besides besides rural connectivity. "Connectivity is the lifeblood of an economy. The government has given a massive push to all forms of physical connectivity through Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, industrial corridors, dedicated freight corridors, Bhartamala and Sagarmala projects, Jal Marg Vikas and UDAN Schemes," Sitharaman said presenting the Budget for 2019-20. The allocation for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been increased to Rs 83,016 crore in the budget as against Rs 71,000 crore in 2018-19 which was revised to Rs 78,625.50 crore. Sitharaman said while the industrial corridors would improve infrastructure availability for greater industrial investment in the catchment regions, the dedicated freight corridors would mitigate the congestion of our railway network benefitting the common man. The ambitious programme of Bharatmala would help develop national road corridors and highways, she said adding, these initiatives will improve logistics tremendously, reducing the cost of transportation and increasing the competitiveness of domestically produced goods. "The government will carry out a comprehensive restructuring of National Highway Programme to ensure that the National Highway Grid of desirable length and capacity is created using financeable model. After completing the Phase 1 of Bharatmala, in the second Phase, States will be helped to develop State road networks," the finance minister said. About Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the minister said it has brought many socio-economic gains in the rural areas. "To accelerate the speed of achieving universal connectivity of eligible habitations, the target of connecting the eligible and feasible habitations was advanced from 2022 to 2019. I am happy to inform that all weather connectivity has now been provided to over 97 per cent of such habitations," she said. This has been possible by maintaining a high pace of road construction of 130 to 135 km per day in the last 1,000 days. Committed to the agenda of sustainable development, 30,000 kms of PMGSY roads have been built using Green Technology, Waste Plastic and Cold Mix Technology, thereby reducing carbon footprint, she added. "With the changing economic scenario, it is important to upgrade roads connecting villages to rural markets. For this PMGSY-III is envisaged to upgrade 1,25,000kms of road length over the next five years, with an estimated cost of Rs 80,250 crore," she said. Also the Budget proposed to increase Special Additional Excise duty and Road and Infrastructure Cess each by one rupee a litre on petrol and diesel. The Budget while giving thrust for innovating mode of financing mentioned that NHAI carried out one ToT (toll operate and transfer) transaction as well. The cumulative resources garnered through these instruments and model exceed Rs 24,000 crore. On promoting electric vehicles, the minister said the main objective of phase-II of FAME scheme approved by the Cabinet with an outlay of Rs 10,000 crore for a period of three years is to encourage faster adoption of electric vehicles by way of offering upfront incentive on its purchase. "Government has already moved GST council to lower the GST rate on electric vehicles from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. Also to make electric vehicle affordable to consumers, our government will provide additional income tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest paid on loans taken to purchase electric vehicles. This amounts to a benefit of around Rs 2.5 lakh over the loan period to the taxpayers who take loans to purchase electric vehicle," she said. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadakri hailing the budget said his Ministry was planning dedicated electric lanes on highways. He said increase in Special Additional Excise duty and Road and Infrastructure Cess each by one rupee a litre on petrol and diesel will ultimately be roped in for betterment of highways infrastructure. He said focus on infrastructure will ultimately be a step towards achieving USD 5 trillion economy. PTI NAM MKJ

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