Earlier today (25 February), Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, laid out his vision for roads, highways and expressways in India, as he addressed a webinar on Indian Infrastructure, part of a webinar series called ‘Infranirbhar Bharat‘ organised by Swarajya Magazine in association with Construction World, India’s premier and largest circulated construction business magazine.
Addressing the webinar, Gadkari underlined the need to expand India’s highway network, saying highways make up only 2 per cent of the country’s total road network but carry about 40 per cent of the total road traffic.
Highways Construction On Fast Lane
The minister said that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has set a target of constructing 11,000 kilometer of roads in 2021, which translates to about 30 km per day, and added that the achievement in construction for the 10 month period between April 2020 and January 2021 of 8,745 km is higher than 7,925 km achieved during the same period in 2019-20.
The minister also noted that the award of 7,602 km of highway projects in the current financial year till 2021 is significantly higher than the 3,509 km of highway projects awarded during the same period in the previous financial year.
“My ministry has created a record by constructing 534 km of national highways in the second week of January 2021. I am hopeful that with such a pace we will be able to cross the construction target of 11,000 km by end of March,” Gadkari said.
“My target was 40 km per day. Yesterday, when I enquired, it was coming out to around 30 km per day. I am hopeful that by the end of March this year, we could reach my target of constructing 40 km of roads per days,” he added.
Gadkari said the government aims to construct 60,000 km of highways in the country in the next five years at the rate of 40 km per day.
No Resource Constraints
“I have no problem as far as resources are concerned,” Gadkari said, adding that he is targeting an investment of Rs 25 lakh crore in the road development sector.
“NHAI is a AAA rated company,” he noted.
The most critical challenges faced by the NAHI are linked to land acquisition, utility shifting, and environment and forces clearances, Gadkari said. Finding a solution to these challenges, he added, can significantly increase the pace of road construction.
A part of the funding for the road development sector will come from the monetisation of existing assets, the minister said. He noted that the ministry has decided to make small packages, adding that this is not only getting us good prices but also a good response from Indian entrepreneurs and investors.
In the 2021 budget, “the Finance Minister has proposed an enhanced outlay of Rs 1.18 trillion for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways,” he noted.
Improving Road Connectivity
Gadkari underlined the work on road connectivity being done by the Narendra Modi government under the Golden Quadrilateral Project, Bharatmala Pariyojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna and Sagarmala Project.
Over 34,800 km of national highways, including about 10,000 km of balance work under the National Highways Development Programme, are to be constructed under the first phase of the Bharatmala Pariyojana, rolled out in 2017-18.
“This includes 5,000 km of national corridors, 9,000 km of economic corridors, 6,000 km of feeder corridors, 2,000 km of border roads, 2,000 km of coastal and port connectivity roads and 800 km of greenfield expressways,” Gadkari noted.
A total of 65,000 km of roads will be developed under the Bharatmala Pariyojana to connect 550 districts of the country with four-lane highways, he said.
“With the development of 50 economic corridors, it (Bharatmala Pariyojana) has the aim to shift 80 per cent of freight on national highways. It will generate 14.2 crore man days of employment. Roads built will increase vehicle traveling speed by around 20-25 per cent, thereby helping reduce travel time and logistics costs,” the minister added.
To reduce congestion on corridors, enhance logistics efficiency, 35 locations have been identified for the development of multimodal logistics parks, Gadkari said.
“The government is developing 22 Greenfield express highways of around 2,500 km and axis controlled corridors around 5,500 km at a cost of 3.32 lakh crore. Of this, 2,950 km has already been awarded and the rest will be awarded in next year,” he said.
“As part of the National Infrastructure Pipeline, 1,820 number of national highway projects are taken up to be developed by 2024-25 with length of 89,300 km and at an estimated cost of 19.35 lakh crore, of which 86 projects with length of 4,414 km at cost of RS. 30,000 crore have been completed, and 1059 number of projects with 44,090 km worth investment of 6.70 lakh crore are in progress,” he added.
The minister also underlined the importance of creating green belts along highways and said that he was not satisfied by the work being done on this currently.
“Experts in construction are not experts in plantation. Hence, we need to find suitable agencies to carry out highway plantation,” he added.
Adoption Of Technology
The minister said he will soon inaugurate a system for real-time reporting of delays on toll plazas, adding that the system will help understand problem areas. He noted that the ministry is planning to use GPS to make the flow of traffic seamless. Development of GPS bases toll collection can remove all toll plazas in country, he said.
“We will be offering all these services to the state governments as well,” the minister said, requesting the Maharashtra government to consider this for the Mumbai–Nagpur Expressway Samruddhi Expressway.
“100 per cent FASTag is mandated at toll plazas, average daily toll collection increased by 50%, facilitating seamless traffic movement,” Gadkari said.
Gadkari also talked about the adoption of new technologies and alternative materials in the construction of roads and highways to bring down cost.
The ministry, he said, is planning to use steel and plastic fibers, and is already experimenting with bamboo for crash barriers, for which projects have been given to IITs and other engineering colleges in the country. The government is also promoting the use of flash, waste plastic and rubber in construction, he noted.
Bitumen companies are not cooperating with the ministry when it comes to the use of modified bitumen, Gadkari said, adding that the ministry is looking at the option of making the use of modified bitumen mandatory.
“The problem is that when we discuss with the oil companies, it is costly compared to other bitumen. There is saving for them, but they are giving us higher rates. Bitumen companies are also exploiting the situation, and we will think of allowing imports to create competition in market.” he said.
“We are flexible with contractors adopting any successful technology or practice from around the world, meeting requirements of defect liability period,” he added.
Addressing Concerns Of Investors
Gadkari discussed the steps taken by the government to address the concerns of investors in the road and highways development sector.
The minister said that model concession agreement for build-operate-transfer toll projects have been amended to address investors concerns, which includes better project preparedness, cash flow management and revenue protection.
“Similarly for hybrid annuity model project, allowing 100 per cent equity disinvestment after six months of construction and computational interest rate have been linked to more realistic market rates,” Gdkari said.
Government is also permitting 100 per cent foreign direct investment in the road sector. Opportunities are available for joint ventures, dispute resolution procedure has been streamlined to avoid litigations, extensive adoption of digital portal Bhoomi Rashi to expedite and streamline land acquisition process, 90 per cent of land to be provided before appointment date,” he added.
“Implementing alternate instruments like monetisation of existing assets through InvIT, TOT, SPV formation, etc for enabling wider investor participation,” he said.