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Infrastructure funding – lessons learnt

At the TN Global Investors Meet dozens of experts discussed in parallel sessions presided over by the state ministers/senior civil servants.

A media person had to contend with a major problem: since these were conducted in parallel, one had to hop from one hall to another to listen selectively  few specialists of one’s choice. The second problem related to the organiser’s presenting too many speakers, each given just five to ten minutes,  that left little time for interactions. One looks forward to the consolidation of the presentations in a book form.

I sat through the session on Enabling Mega Infrastructure projects. Planning & Development Secretary, S Krishnan, made a lucid presentation on the problems encountered by large Infrastructure projects. He threw light on the need for more thorough preparation of funding the projects adequately, as also to anticipate contingencies and developments that would demand higher volume of funding. These will have implications on the viability of the project and the repayment schedules of loans. Krishnan suggested providing for adequate viability gap funding.

The present crisis suffered by banks and other lenders has risen due to the failure on this score. The consequent reluctance of these financial institutions to fund infrastructure projects received attention in this session.

S B Nayar, CMD, India Infrastructure Finance Co Ltd. outlined several measures such as sale and lease back of assets and securitisation. Lack of attention to such details resulted in hundreds of vital projects announced by the UPA I and UPA II governments remaining non-starters. The ultra mega power project concept announced at the beginning of the UPA I regime which held great promise is a case in point. At the closing years of UPA II, Finance Minister P Chidambaram frequently mentioned of projects valued at over Rs 700,000 crore getting stuck for various reasons.

K Venkatesh, MD, L&T Infrastructure Development Projects, pointed to yet another problem: the difficulty of concessionaries to realise fully the promise of toll collections in many of the BOT projects. Venkatesh  also referred to two other issues, of an effective disputes resolution mechanism and the difficulty of settlement of dues. The judicial system and mechanism for settlement outside the traditional legal system both need to be tuned up to deliver quick decisions.

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