Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has set a stiff target of building national highways at a record pace of 40 km/day for the current fiscal. A record 37 km a day was realised in 2020-21, while last fiscal, the figure was 29 km/day. The minister told Surya Sarathi Ray efforts are being made to achieve the latest target despite persistent problems, including land acquisition. He also said road asset monetisation would be taken taken up as per the requirement of funds. Edited excerpts.
Highway asset monetisation seems to be lacking the desired pace.
No, there is no [lack of speed]. There is no need for money at the moment. The proceeds from monetisation should not be kept idle, they should be spent. The sequencing of monetisation should be done as per the requirement of funds. However, we are planning to add four additional stretches into the existing infrastructure investment trusts (InvIT). The money should be utilised.
You plan to convert NHAI’s existing InvIT into a public one.
Yes, this will be done. We have plans for that so that small investors can invest their money instead of keeping it in bank deposits from where they get 4.5-5% return. We will give such investors 7-8% return monthly … Instead of such high returns going into the hands of overseas investors, the character change of the InvIT will help in two ways: one, country’s poor people will have a chance to contribute to the building of national highways and secondly, they will get better returns.
The change in the nature of the InvIT requires approval from Sebi. What is the status on that?
We have received clearance from Sebi.
Project awards through the traditional build-operate-transfer (BOT) route are not really taking off. Any particular reason for it?
This is because BOT projects are not being tendered out. Projects are being tendered out mostly through the hybrid annuity model (HAM). This is because the financial condition of the contractors has not been very sound in the meantime to take up projects on BOT route. However, things have changed in a big way since then. I am sure BOT projects will be tendered out. There should be 20-25 interested parties … then only it makes sense to take out projects through the BOT route.
What is the pace of national highway construction you are aiming to achieve?
The intention should always be high. My target is to take it above 40 km/day this fiscal. This time around also, problems relating to land acquisition, environmental clearances are there. Covid-19 was also there. Let’s see what happens till March. We are trying very hard.
Will you seek additional fund allocation in the supplementary Budget?
We have got a very good Budget this year. Private investment is also coming in, in a big way. We are monetising projects through InvIT. We have received money through monetisation under the toll-operate-transfer model. There has to be a balance. What is the point of monetising many projects at one go and parking the money in low-yielding instruments without spending it on the ground?
You have been flagging the need to revamp NHAI for a long time now. What is the progress there?
Already, many things have started, many changes have taken place. We have sent many instructions. The change, the revamp is a continuous process.
You have also been given the mandate to develop a ropeway and cable car infrastructure system. What is the progress on that front?
We have received 165 projects for ropeway and cable car. There are 40 logistics park projects worth Rs 2 trillion. In the coming days, we will be developing multi-modal hub projects in a big way. We are placing priority on parking plazas and bus ports. We are also planning to develop 650 roadside amenities on national highways, of which 70 have been tendered out.