Highway construction in the first month of the current fiscal stood at 679 km, averaging at 22.63 km a day, against the ambitious target of 41 km per day for entire 2017-18. In the last fiscal, the Nitin Gadkari-led ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) kept the target for construction at 15,000 km, but only 8,142 km could be built, averaging at an all-time high pace of 22.3 km per day. Sources said the ministry, through the state PWDs, built 445-km highways during April this year.
While the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) built 221 km, the remaining 13 km was built by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL). The internal target for construction was kept at 507 km for the month. Data compiled by the ministry showed that in April last year, a total of 464-km highways was constructed at a pace of 15.64 km a day. The rise in pace was attributed to better monitoring of the highway works coupled with the higher awards, mostly through the EPC route, in the preceding years.
One of the focus areas of the Narendra Modi government, construction of highways figures prominently in its overall effort to spruce up the infrastructure sector. The pace of construction has been growing steadily since the NDA assumed power in May 2014. Compared with 4,216-km highway construction in 2013-14, the number grew to 4,410 km in 2014-15, 6,061 km in 2016-17 and 8,142 km in 2017-18. The pace of awards in April this year has been slower at just 59 km.
In the same month last year, NHAI, MoRTH and NHIDCL cumulatively awarded 139-km highway roads for construction. While MoRTH and NHAI awarded 122 km and 17 km, respectively, in April last year, during the same month this year, MoRTH awarded them all. NHAI failed to award a single project in April this year. Unlike in the past, MoRTH or NHAI do not award any highway project unless 90% of the land is available. Sources said since a maximum of the sanctioned projects are generally awarded before March to make the annual numbers look better, in April the numbers look pale.
Any project worth below Rs 500 crore is awarded by the highways secretary. The minister has the power to award projects worth up to Rs 1,000 crore and beyond that, the Union Cabinet takes the call. Starting from 2014-15, in the last three years, 7,980 km, 10,098 km and 16,036-km highway projects have been awarded and it generally takes two to two-and-a-half years to complete a highway project. For the current fiscal, the target of awarding highway projects has been kept at 25,000 km – same as the last fiscal.
Gadkari had earlier attributed the slow pace of highway construction to problems in land acquisition and utility shifting, non-availability of aggregates, poor performance of contractors and delay in various clearances. The government has taken several steps to address the private investment famine in the sector. It eased the exit policy for developers to enable them to invest in new projects and introduced the hybrid annuity model where the Centre bears 40% of the project cost.