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Indian government promises One Portal To Rule Them all in support of colossal infrastructure build

What could possibly go wrong on a project with vast scope, many stakeholders with different agendas, and an assumption of prompt data sharing?

India's government yesterday announced a massive new wave of infrastructure investment, and a portal it says will ensure co-ordination among multiple government departments so that new builds avoid overlap with other plans and contribute to a national modernisation drive.

Launched yesterday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the new "GatiShakti" plan has noble aims.

"Infrastructure creation in India had suffered for decades from multiple issues," opens the statement announcing the plan. "There was lack of coordination between different Departments. For example, once a road was constructed, other agencies dug up the constructed road again for activities like laying of underground cables, gas pipelines etc.

"This not only caused great inconvenience but was also a wasteful expenditure."

Modi's government wants that sort of thing to stop, because yesterday it also announced a US$1.3T infrastructure plan – much of it aimed at improving transport infrastructure and facilitating multimodal connectivity. The investment is needed because most of India's highways remain two-lane affairs, while railways are extensive but seldom swift. The nation has even boosted river transport to improve matters and realise its ambitions to become a bigger exporter of manufactured goods.

One element of the GatiShakti plan – the term means "the power of speed" – is a portal that "will include all the existing and planned initiatives of various Ministries and Departments".

"Each and every Department will now have visibility of each other's activities providing critical data during planning & execution of projects in a comprehensive manner," reads the plan's launch document. The portal will also allow prioritisation of projects by facilitating cross-sectoral interactions, and "help in synchronizing the activities of each department, as well as of different layers of governance, in a holistic manner by ensuring coordination of work between them."

The portal will also consolidate geographic data and offer a GIS tool for all agencies to use when developing projects.

"All Ministries and Departments will now be able to visualize, review and monitor the progress of cross-sectoral projects, through the GIS platform, as the satellite imagery will give on-ground progress periodically and progress of the projects will be updated on a regular basis on the portal," according to the government's announcement. That stream of info "will help in identifying the vital interventions for enhancing and updating the master plan."

The GatiShakti plan will include waterways, ports, industry clusters in economic zones, electronic parks, industrial corridors, and even fishing and agriculture clusters. So the portal will need to gather a lot of information, from a lot of different entities, and keep it all up-to-date to enable a vision of decision-making that doesn't impinge the development of infrastructure.

But who will develop and operate the portal, and the timeframe in which it will be completed, was not revealed.

India has a mixed track record in nation-spanning tech projects. The "Aadhar" national ID Card has quickly become pervasive but has had privacy challenges, while a recent attempt to digitise tax systems went pear-shaped.

This new portal is more complex than either Aadhar or the tax portal, and has all the ingredients The Register often sees when considering struggling projects: enormous scope, stakeholders with overlapping priorities, assumed rapid data sharing, and no clear endpoint. What could possibly go wrong? ®

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