Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has embarked on a transformative journey in infrastructure development, embracing principles of decentralisation, sustainability, and non-absoluteness. This vision reflects a commitment to reshape the nation’s cultural, economic, and social fabric, drawing inspiration from a rich history of innovation and adaptation in infrastructure. Evidence from the ancient Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation reveals advanced urban planning in cities like Harappa and Kukkuṭārma (Mohenjo-Daro), showcasing early commitments to organised urban living.
The Mahabharata references the Uttarapatha, connecting Kirata, Kamboja, Gandhara, and the Yavana nations. During Chiang Kien’s visit to Gandhara in 127 BCE, trade connections were evidenced by the presence of bamboo products and textiles from southwestern China. The Dakshinapatha, complementing the Uttarapatha, originated from Varanasi, traversing Ujjaini and the Narmada valley, extending to Pratisthana in Maharashtra, and further to the western coast. The historical intersection of the Dakshinapatha and Uttarapatha made Sarnath, near Varanasi, a hub for the exchange of goods and ideas. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya initiated the precursor to the modern Grand Trunk road, connecting Purushapura, Takshashila, Hastinapura, Kanyakubja, Prayag, Patliputra, and Tamralipta. During this period, Ashoka’s edicts highlighted the installation of trees, wells at half-kos intervals, and rest houses along the route. In the medieval era, the Chola Dynasty demonstrated early water management with the Grand Anicut.
In contemporary times, India’s infrastructure has seen unprecedented growth, exemplified by projects like the Golden Quadrilateral, the Delhi Metro, and the National Highway Development Program. However, challenges persist, including rapid urbanisation and environmental sustainability. Government initiatives like the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) underscore a commitment to addressing challenges and ensuring inclusive development. As India moves forward, the legacy of its historical infrastructure developments intertwines with the vision of a sustainable, technologically advanced future under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. Turiyavaad is an ontological framework potentially relevant to contemporary times and yet moored in Vedantin roots that speak of transcending constructs, especially binaries, in a path that promotes non-absolutism. In this essay, I will be exploring the novel paradigm of Decentralised Physical, Sustainable, and Non-Absolute Infrastructure (DePSNAin) to instantiate a Dharmic and Turiyavaadi path towards responsible governance and empowerment of the people of Bharat.
Decentralisation as a Catalyst
Non-absolutism in administrative forays, much like the Einsteinian revolution in physics, depends on frames of reference. A frame of reference delineates a perspective that is essential to hardwire contextuality into the way we undertake infrastructure development. Decentralisation is the quintessential marker of a non-absolutist, frame-dependent model of development, especially of infrastructure. The emphasis on decentralisation under the Modi government has been a game-changer in India’s development narrative. Through measures like the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), financial powers and decision-making authority have been devolved to local bodies. For instance, launched in 2015, the Smart Cities Mission aims to develop 100 smart cities across the country.
This initiative encourages local authorities to identify and prioritise their unique development needs, ensuring that the planning and execution of projects align with the specific requirements of each city. The Union government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been actively promoting the role of Panchayati Raj institutions, the local self-governance bodies, in the planning and implementation of rural development projects. This decentralised approach empowers local communities to take charge of their own development, ensuring that infrastructure projects are tailored to local requirements. Another commendable initiative in a specific area of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the Jal Jeevan Mission. Launched to provide safe and adequate drinking water to all rural households, the mission emphasises community participation and decentralised planning.
Local communities are encouraged to actively engage in the planning and management of water supply schemes, promoting sustainable and community-driven solutions. By integrating decentralisation into these initiatives, the Indian government aims to empower local communities and authorities, enhance project efficiency, and ensure that infrastructure development is closely aligned with the diverse and specific needs of different regions across the country. This approach not only accelerates the pace of development but also fosters a sense of ownership and accountability at the local level. In the Mahāsubhāṣitasaṅgraha, it has been said
अनारम्भस्तु कार्याणां प्रथमं बुद्धिलक्षणम्।
आरब्धस्यान्तगमनं द्वितीयं बुद्धिलक्षणम्॥
which means that not starting tasks needlessly and irresponsible is the first characteristic of intelligence, and once started, bringing tasks to completion is the second characteristic of intelligence. Responsible infrastructure development has been the mantra in Modi’s Bharat, with audits and devolving decision-making. This decentralisation has not only empowered communities to address their unique infrastructure needs but has also fostered a sense of ownership and accountability at the grassroots level.
Remote Accessibility to Basic Infrastructure
Dharma is premised on the inherent unity of all, as highlighted in the Avadhūta Gītā (1.15)
संयोगश्च वियोगश्च वर्तते न च ते न मे
which means union and separation exist in regard neither to you nor to me. When technology and contemporaneous tools are utilised to facilitate this for the betterment of the masses, there can be nothing better. In the digital era, India has actively pursued remote access to services through the “GI Cloud” or ‘Meghraj’ project, harnessing the advantages of cloud computing. The government aims to expedite e-service delivery nationwide and optimise Information and Communication Technology (ICT) expenditures.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has taken steps to promote Cloud service adoption, categorising them into “Basic Cloud Services” (Virtual Machines) and “Advanced Cloud Services” (Containers). Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) listing on the GeM platform must categorise services as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), or Software as a Service (SaaS), with specific controls outlined in the Cloud Services Empanelment Request for Proposal (RFP). Additionally, efforts have been made to enhance remote and decentralised access to health and education infrastructure.
The surge in telehealth, driven by the global COVID-19 pandemic, has seen substantial growth in India. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) introduced guidelines in collaboration with NITI Aayog and the Board of Governors (BoG) Medical Council of India (MCI) to regulate telehealth practises nationwide. While telehealth has firmly established its presence in urban India, challenges persist in rural areas due to insufficient infrastructure. To bridge the digital divide, the Government of India, through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), launched the ‘Digital India’ programme.
The Ministry of Education contributes to this vision through the PM e-Vidya initiative, providing high-quality educational programmes accessible via DTH channels and web platforms. Notable initiatives include DIKSHA, offering quality e-content for school education, and the distribution of QR coded Energised Textbooks. DIKSHA has recorded over 524 crore learning sessions and more than 6,125 crore learning minutes as of July 25, 2023. The PM e-Vidya initiative consolidates digital and online education efforts, aligning with the broader vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan.
Sustainability and Non-Absolutism in Infra Development
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government has embarked on a transformative journey in infrastructure development, marked by a commitment to sustainability and a non-absolutist approach. Across various sectors, from transportation to urban development, the Modi government has integrated environmental considerations, community engagement, and inclusivity into the fabric of infrastructure projects. The Swachh Bharat Mission, launched in 2014, not only addresses sanitation but also emphasises sustainable waste management practises, reflecting a nuanced understanding of environmental challenges. The Union Government has instantiated the age-old Bharatiya wisdom encapsulated in the Atharvaṇavedaḥ (12.1.12)
माता भूमिः पुत्रो-अहम् पृथ्वीयाः
which means that the earth is our mother and we are all its offspring. The Smart Cities Mission, initiated in 2015, takes a holistic view, prioritising green spaces, efficient public transportation, and technology-driven solutions to ensure urban development is both modern and sustainable. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) encourages eco-friendly construction practises, incorporating energy-efficient designs and sustainable building materials in affordable housing projects. The government’s push for renewable energy, with a target of 175 GW by 2022, signifies a commitment to sustainable power generation. Importantly, the Modi government’s approach is non-absolutist, recognising the need for a balance between development and environmental preservation. The Sagarmala Project, aimed at modernising ports, emphasises eco-friendly port operations and coastal conservation, showcasing a commitment to responsible development.
The government’s focus on electric mobility through schemes like Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) aligns with sustainable transportation goals. By fostering inclusivity and community involvement, such as in the Clean Ganga initiative, the government ensures that infrastructure development considers local needs and concerns. This non-absolutist stance recognizes the complexity of development challenges and strives for a harmonious integration of progress and sustainability, showcasing a forward-looking and pragmatic approach to infrastructure development in India under the Modi government. Moreover, the introduction of digital platforms and open governance models has ushered in a new era of citizen participation in policymaking. The “MyGov” portal and other similar initiatives enable direct engagement between the government and the people, fostering transparency and reducing bureaucratic opacity. This shift towards non-absolute governance models not only enhances accountability but also lays the foundation for infrastructure projects that truly address the needs of the diverse Indian populace.
Regulated InvITs and Modularity
In Modi’s India, the concept of Regulated Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) has emerged as a significant tool for fostering sustainable and robust infrastructure development. InvITs, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), provide a platform for investors to pool funds and invest in infrastructure projects, typically yielding stable returns. This innovative financial instrument has been instrumental in attracting private investment into the infrastructure sector, a critical component of the government’s vision for inclusive development. The regulatory framework ensures transparency, accountability, and the protection of investor interests, creating a conducive environment for long-term capital infusion.
Moreover, the modular approach to infrastructure development has gained prominence, aligning with the broader vision of adaptive and scalable projects. Instead of pursuing large-scale, monolithic endeavours, the Modi government has emphasised modularity, breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable components. This not only enhances efficiency but also allows for a more agile response to changing needs and technological advancements. The approach facilitates faster implementation, reduces bureaucratic hurdles, and encourages innovation in project execution.
The development of modular infrastructure is particularly evident in initiatives like the Bharatmala Project, where the construction of highways is undertaken in smaller, interconnected segments, optimizing resources and expediting completion. The modular approach is not confined to transportation; it extends to various sectors, including energy, urban development, and technology. By combining Regulated InvITs with a modular approach, the government is fostering a dynamic and adaptive infrastructure landscape. This strategy not only attracts diverse investors but also ensures that infrastructure development aligns with the evolving needs of India’s growing economy. In embracing regulated financial instruments and modular projects, the Modi government is laying the foundation for a resilient and future-ready infrastructure ecosystem, poised to propel India into a new era of sustainable and inclusive development.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, India is navigating towards a future where infrastructure is not merely a means of connectivity but a driver of sustainable and inclusive growth. The strides made in decentralisation, sustainability, and non-absolute governance represent a paradigm shift in how nations approach infrastructure development. As India continues this transformative journey, the potential for positive impacts on the economy, the environment, and the lives of its citizens is immense, setting the stage for a future where infrastructure truly becomes the backbone of a prosperous, harmonious, and dharmic society.