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Infrastructure: Narendra Modi’s pet mega highway projects make little progress; land acquisition, protests, cash crunch blamed

Most of the mega highway projects for which foundation stones have been laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since August 2014 have made little or no progress.

mega highway projects, Narendra Modi projects, PM Modi highway projects, BJP, EPC, public-private partnership, land acquisition, utility shifting, Patna-Gaya-Dhobi section, highway ministry
Most of the mega highway projects for which foundation stones have been laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since August 2014 have made little or no progress. (Source: PTI)

Most of the mega highway projects for which foundation stones have been laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since August 2014 have made little or no progress due to a variety of reasons including problems of land acquisition, utility shifting, “protests by villagers” and cash crunch faced by contractors.

PM Modi has laid foundation stones for 11 highway projects, most of them in the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) category, where the government would fund the projects entirely. Although EPC projects face no fund constraint, unlike public-private partnership (PPP) projects, the huge slippages even in these projects reflect poorly on the efficiency of implementation. As reported by FE earlier, about 18 km of highways are built in the country every day now, against the target of 41 km a day set by the government.

According to a presentation made by the road ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office recently at the latter’s instance, only two of the 11 projects launched by Modi are on track. Not a single kilometre has been developed in the four-laning project of the 125-km Patna-Buxar stretch in Bihar — the ground-breaking ceremony for which was on August 18, 2015 — as the appointment of concessionaires, selected via competitive bidding, got delayed. The project was divided into three stretches by the National Highways Authority of India to improve viability but local protests against land acquisition too played spoilsport.

In two other projects as well — the Patna-Gaya-Dhobi section of NH-83 (100 km) and Port-connectivity Highway Project (18 km) — for which foundation stones were laid in August 2014 and August 2015, respectively, by Modi — there has been little progress. While only 1% physical progress against the target of 41% (for January 2017) has been achieved in the first project, in the second one, no physical progress could be achieved while the target was to complete 21% by now. The ministry attributed the delay in both these projects to slow mobilisation of resources by the civil contractor.

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Of the four other projects running slow, two are in PM Modi’s own Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi. The physical progress of the four-laning of the 17-km Babatpur-Varanasi section of NH-56 and of the Varanasi bypass is lagging behind the target due to protest from local villagers even as land acquisition has been completed. The progress has also been slow in the case of the 100-km Solapur-Maharashtra/ Karnataka border project, awarded in the build operator transfer (toll) mode. Construction has been tardy on the stretch, which is among the major high-density traffic corridors in the country, connecting northern and western India with the southern India, ministry sources said, adding that just 11 km could be constructed in the last six months. Construction of the four-lane Pardi Naka flyover in Nagpur has been just 3%.

With banks reluctant to shed their wariness in funding PPP projects in the sector, the government launched the hybrid annuity model, touted as a solution to the lack of equity funds in the sector, but even this has not been a runaway success. Banks are worried that equity contribution of developers in these projects — where the government’s bears 40% of the project cost — is too low, at less than 10%.

However, two projects are on track — six-laning of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and Delhi-Meerut Expressway. Sources said Modi has asked the highway ministry to speed up the projects as otherwise he would refrain from laying foundation stones for any new project.

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