New Delhi: Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Saturday expressed confidence that the Indian economy, currently reeling under the impact of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, will soon bounce back.
As the world is looking away from China, it is a blessing in disguise for India, the Minister of Road and Transport told CNN-News18 in an exclusive interview. "This is the time for India to get into joint ventures with foreign companies," he said.
Japan had earlier announced a $2 billion-fund to move businesses away from China as negative sentiments prevailed against the country following the outbreak of the coronavirus. Hoping to take advantage of this anti-China sentiment, Gadkari said, "India and Japan are on friendly terms and the government is working to attract foreign investment in the country."
"I am confident that we will get a response from western countries, particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and France," he said. "India will be a good destination for foreign investment due to the availability of skilled labour and the low cost of land."
#EXCLUSIVE – I’m sure that we can convert these problems into opportunities, this is a blessing in disguise. We are going to win this war and make India a super economic power: Union Minister @nitin_gadkari speaks to @maryashakil.#IndiaFightsCOVID19 | #TotalLockdown | #StayHome pic.twitter.com/f26d3S3wXe— CNNNews18 (@CNNnews18) April 25, 2020
When asked about the government's plan to alleviate medium and small enterprises in the auto sector that is expected to face a major slump in the future, Gadkari highlighted liquidity as being one of the major problems of the Indian economy.
On being asked if the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will rethink its annual targets, Gadkari said the target had been achieved as of last year. "For the next financial year, the target will be double. I have asked all my officers to immediately issue payment of all contractors. Even if it takes longer hours to do the task, we must do it. We have taken this decision to ensure liquidity in the economy. Therefore, we need to release whatever payments we can from the government's side," he said.
Gadkari said 65% of the traffic is already on the roads, exports have started, and the government will double the NHAI's target for this year even as economic activity has come to a standstill. "I have asked all my officers to keep working as they were working before. We just have ensure safe distance between labourers, we will have to make contractors responsible so that everybody uses masks, washes their hands and keeps sanitisers handy," he said.
Gadkari on Friday had said the government will set up a Rs 1 lakh crore fund to repay the outstanding payments to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) owed by the central and state government undertakings as well as major industries. Gadkari said he has devised a scheme to set up the fund and the proposal may be placed before the Cabinet for approval once the finance ministry gives its go-ahead.
Gadkari, who is also the Minister for MSME, said the fund will impart relief to the sector to a certain extent. He said the corpus will be a mobile fund that will help increase liquidity in the market.
Gadkari has repeatedly called on India Inc to clear their huge outstanding payments to the MSME sector at the earliest in order to ease the distress in the sector and inject liquidity into the market.
Speaking about the government's plan to improve the situation of migrant labourers, lakhs of whom are currently stranded hundreds of kilometres away from their homes, Gadkari said, "Our priority is to develop industries in tribal, agricultural and rural areas. We need to decentralise the industries from Noida, Gugaon, Mumbai and Bangalore and move it socially and economically backward regions."
Breaking away from the norm of creating slum areas alongside industrial areas, the government is planning on integrated development by creating a smart village or city near every industrial cluster, he added.