Rs.20k-cr road projects set to get back on track

Written by Timsy Jaipuria | Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 19 2013, 07:44am hrs
Road ProjectsRoad Projects
Work could soon begin in a clutch of stranded highway projects with likely combined investments of over R20,000 crore, as the Union environment ministry is set to give them approvals in one go. The ministrys blanket approval is enabled by its decision to de-link the environment and forest clearances (EC and FC) for road projects, as per a recent Supreme Court directive.

The move comes in the wake of crucial meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), aiming to remove the regulatory hurdles for infrastructure projects worth R50,000 crore by March 31.

The projects to be cleared by the environment ministry include the R7,700-crore Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad project, the delay in clearance for which led to a stand-off between the concessionaire GMR Group and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Other projects set to be given environmental clearance are Gwalior-Shivpuri, Patna-Buxar and Kota-Jhalwar road projects, among others.

If the environmental approvals are de-linked from FC for linear projects (which all road projects are), it would mean that pending the FC, the projects can commence.

According to an environment ministry official, the ministry will hardly take any time to come out with a circular de-linking the two clearances. We have got the order from Supreme Court though it does not mention any timeline for implementing it. We hardly take any time in complying with such orders, but this special dispensation is for linear projects only, he said.

Thanks to the SC verdict, a road project can start work once it gets environment approval. Earlier, the FC was mandatory before start of the work on roads stretches falling in forest and non-forest areas.

Currently, for road projects, the environment ministry gives environmental clearances only after the FC is obtained. This, according to NHAI, is the root cause of delays of all highway projects.

Once the circular is issued, progress on stalled projects will soon be seen. Not just this, this will help developers to show interest in the upcoming bids since delays caused by environment ministry at times become a deterrent for them to participate in the bidding process, said a roads ministry official.

Following the delays and infrastructure majors GMR and GVK withdrawing from two road projects citing these delays, NHAI had moved the Supreme Court on January 5 seeking de-linking of both the clearances. The court order in favour of de-linking the twin clearances has come as a major relief to the roads ministry, which is facing problems in awarding projects and is unlikely to meet the target of awarding 9,500 km for the fiscal.

As per road ministry and NHAI officials, out of 39 major projects awaiting a start, 20 are stuck due to delays in FC and EC.

Of these 32 projects, around 24 have been cleared by the environment appraisal committee (EAC) of the environment ministry, which has recommended them for EC. In fact, one project was given the clean chit in January last year but is still awaiting the final EC. Further, 21 projects are also waiting for stage 1 FC.

As per the current procedures, the two nods are not independent of one another and FC is necessary to secure an EC. However, the environment ministrys January 7 circular allows execution of portion of work on non-forest land pending grant of FC under the Forest Act 1980.