Gatishakti: Digitising the power of speed | OPINION

By Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 100 crore Gatishakti program literally means the power of speed. It is essentially a grand orchestration of building infrastructure in the country on an unprecedented scale. India desperately needs an integrated plan for speeding up cargo movement in the country.

This has been one of the bottlenecks holding back the economy. Gatishakti provides that program. As part of the Gatishakti master plan, the government will strive to have deep coordination between sixteen ministries, which include railways, roads and highways, petroleum and gas, telecom, power, shipping, and aviation, among others.

What is to be noted is that telecom is also a part of the Gatishakti initiative. However, we have not yet heard the details of the telecom infrastructure push with Gatishakti and how deeply it will be integrated with the other proposed infrastructure.

The Gatishakti masterplan includes the development of 11 industrial corridors and two new defence corridors in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. It also includes the creation of a whopping 220 new airports, helicopters and water aerodromes and 17,000 km of new gas pipeline network.

In addition, it aims to provide 4G network coverage in all Indian villages and to expand the national highway network to 2 lakh kilometres. So, there is an intent on developing the 4G telecom infrastructure, along with the physical infrastructure. But not much beyond that is known as of now.

Needless to say, infrastructure leads to growth due to massive consumption of cement, steel and other construction materials. It also helps sustain growth as it provides the infrastructure on which the logistics of the rest of the industries can be supported, without which, industries cannot grow. Also, like all programs, the implementation and its speed will be key, especially when the economy appears to be poised for explosive growth.

However, what would be even more beneficial would be to have an explicit digital plan embedded into Gatishakti, with not just digital infrastructure, but also to use digital to speed up the implementation and to maintain the infrastructure.

For a long time, I have been bringing up the need to have fibre optics across all linear assets such as roads, railway lines, gas pipelines and powerlines. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways also has a stated policy as of 2003, on granting Right of Way (ROW) to lay fibre optics along the national highways. However, the process is complex, to say the least. It still requires approval from multiple government entities at state and national levels. And it is not applicable to any other infrastructure except national highways. There are no clearly stated policies on granting ROW to other telecom players along the gas pipelines, powerlines etc.

It would incrementally cost almost nothing to roll out fibre optics along the new linear assets, such as roads, railways etc. It is a considerable national loss for not laying out fibre optics during the construction of the new infrastructure.

To be fair, individual entities such as GAIL and Indian Railways did roll out fibre optics along their assets of gas pipelines and railway lines respectively. However, they have not been able to utilize the assets to a significant extent.

And therefore, what is also required is an overarching entity, that is able to consolidate all these fibre optic networks that have been laid out by government entities and that will be laid out in future, and monetize these assets in a focused, dedicated manner, thus providing connectivity to the far corners of the country. It also provides the backbone needed to layout the 4G infrastructure, which is part of Gatishakti’s stated goals.

In addition, one would need to have digital solutions for aggregation of demand and supply of logistics requirements and hence solutions such as what startups like Cargo Exchange are providing would be important.

Perhaps, the government may consider bringing in aspects of the Open Networks and Open protocols initiative under ONDC as part of the Gatishakti initiative, integrating the infrastructure availability with the logistics services sector.

Moreover, making movement of goods easier between states by taking out the last few hurdles would be extremely helpful to unleash the economic potential of the country. The roads also need to be ‘smartified’ with aspects such as automatic monitoring of traffic, drone-based support including drone-based monitoring of maintenance of the assets and many such digital support systems that need to be incorporated at the design stage, which would lead to a single command and control centre for the entire Gatishakti initiative and for the resulting infrastructure.

It would also be interesting to connect the status of the various stretches of the Gatishakti infrastructure to local popular apps such as Koo, that can then provide to the users the status of the roads, railway lines, airports, heliports, water aerodromes and all other infrastructure that are needed by the citizens.

Having a digital aspect to Gatishakti is critical to sustaining the digital growth along with the physical growth of infrastructure. As we all know, the physical world and the digital world are tightly entwined and growth cannot be sustained efficiently without the physical and the digital infrastructure being laid out in tandem. Not laying out the digital infrastructure along with the new physical infrastructure will be a considerable national economic loss.

This article first appeared in India Today,