Road transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari’s target of awarding 25,000 km and building 15,000 km of roads in the last fiscal may have been missed by a wide margin, but that hasn’t come in the way of what his ministry looks to accomplish ahead, with the targets remaining unchanged for the current fiscal. While there is a general view among experts that the targets are unrealistic, ministry officials consider going past the 30 km/day mark in the present fiscal (target is 41 km/day) doable.
In April, the first month of FY18, highway construction logged 679 km, averaging 22.63 km/day, a tad higher than the 22.5 km clocked in the last fiscal. Significantly, April is considered the most conducive month for highway construction in India, with the onset of the monsoon slowing down the pace of work for a few months. Notwithstanding this, a top official in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) sounded confident of construction breaching the 30-km/day mark in the current fiscal.
“It is good to have a minister like Gadkari who publicly professes targets. If the construction figure touches 30-31 km/day, it will please me, as a citizen, to see that the country is moving in the right direction,” says Vinayak Chatterjee, Chairman, Feedback Infra.
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As against Gadkari’s target of building 15,000 km of highways in 2016-17, 8,231 km were constructed. The minister had attributed the wide miss — which yet remained the highest ever figure clocked by the ministry and the National Highway Authority of India — to problems in land acquisition and utility shifting, non-availability of aggregates, poor performance of contractors and delay in clearances.
Having kept the target at the same level for the current fiscal, Gadkari is pushing his officials to get their act together. He has also stepped up the monitoring system, with problems faced by the implementing agencies being addressed expeditiously.
Overall, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has done considerably better than its predecessor United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the road construction front. As against the average 5002 km of highways built in the last three years of the UPA regime (15,005 km in all), highway construction in the first three years of the NDA regime went up to 6,234 km/year, marking a 24% jump.
When the Narendra Modi government took over in May, 2014, the construction rate stood at 11.67 km/day. Under the new regime, it grew to 12 km/day in 2014-15 and 16.6 km/day in 2015-16, touching a record 22.5 km/day in the last fiscal.
On the award front too, the Modi-led government’s first three years have outpaced the previous government’s last three years in office. While the UPA-II government awarded work for 15,380 km of highways in its last three years, the figure shot up to 34,349 km for the 2014-17 period — 7.980 km in 2014-15, 10,098 km in 2015-16 and 16,271 km in 2016-17.
The Union government has taken several steps to reverse the drying up of private investment in the sector. It eased the exit policy for developers to enable them to invest in new projects and introduced the hybrid annuity model wherein the Centre bears 40% of the project cost.
As per the new rules, projects worth below Rs 500 crore are awarded by the highways secretary, those up to Rs 1,000 crore by the road transport and highways minister and only projects above that value need the approval of the Union Cabinet. It generally takes two to two and a half years for a developer to execute a highway project.