Centre mulls nodal body for transport

The Union government is planning to establish a single unified transport ministry by merging the Ministries of Aviation, Railways, Surface Transport and Shipping so as to ensure greater ease of doing business and boost India’s trade.

As a first step, inter-ministerial discussions — initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office — have started for establishing a ‘Logistics and Integrated Transport Board’ as a nodal body at the central level for all transport-related matters across modes, official sources told The Hindu .

The ‘umbrella’ Board — likely to be chaired by a Union Cabinet Minister or a Secretary to Government of India — will include top officials from other Ministries concerned such as Finance, Commerce & Industry, External Affairs and Home, as well as senior representatives from the Indian industry and legal experts, especially to address competition aspects.

‘Minimum government’

The aim, however, is to gradually set up a single unified transport ministry by merging the ministries of Aviation, Railways, Surface Transport and Shipping to ensure greater ease of doing business and boost India’s internal and external trade, they said. It is also in line with the NDA government’s slogan of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’, they added.

The development comes at a time when conglomerates such as Adani Group are expanding their multi-modal logistics operations and when the government is looking to expedite the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax regime to make India a unified market.

In his 2017-18 Union Budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said: “An effective multi modal logistics and transport sector will make our economy more competitive. A specific programme for development of multi-modal logistics parks, together with multi modal transport facilities, will be drawn up and implemented.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a recent inter-ministerial meeting, had sought to know whether currently any single Ministry or department has the “ownership and responsibility” regarding coordination of all transport and logistics related matters, the sources at the Central government said requesting anonymity.

The meeting had taken up the issue of various departments and agencies within the Ministries of Aviation, Railways, Surface Transport and Shipping at times working in “silos,” in turn leading to red-tapism, as well as delays and higher costs in transport and logistics, hence hurting India’s trade.

The Prime Minister was also keen to know whether having a single unified ‘logistics and integrated transport body’ at the national level would be advantageous compared with the present system. In this regard, the Centre is considering the report of the National Transport Development Policy Committee, chaired by Rakesh Mohan.

The report, submitted to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January 2014, had pointed out that “nearly all of the 100 largest economies, all of the OECD countries, and all of India’s emerging market ‘peers,’ the BRICS countries, have a Ministry of Transport or similar integrated equivalent rather than the collection of mode-specific ministries found in India.” It further noted that “some of these consolidated national agencies are also combined with the Ministry (or equivalent) of communication, a categorisation reminiscent of India’s early post-independence structure.”

Larger goals

The report suggested that “India needs to have a single unified ministry with a clear mandate to deliver a multi-modal transport system that contributes to the country’s larger development goals including economic growth, expansion of employment, geographic expansion of opportunities, environmental sustainability, and energy security.”

The Centre is also reportedly planning to build 35 multi-modal logistics parks by investing more than Rs. 50,000 crore. In a bid to link India to global supply chains and logistics, the Union Cabinet had last month approved India's accession to the United Nations TIR Convention. It will allow Indian traders hassle-free access to the global system for movement of goods by road or multi- modal means across the territories.