Connecting Borders: Implementation of Bharat Mala Programme gains pace

Implementation of Bharat Mala Programme gains pace

The Bharat Mala Programme is one of the big-ticket projects launched by the central government in 2015. Its aim is to improve connectivity to India’s borders through the construction of all-weather roads along the border routes.

The route proposed under the project will stretch from Gujarat to Mizoram and link to road networks in the coastal states. The project will start from Gujarat and Rajasthan, pass through Punjab and then cover the entire stretch of Himalayan states – Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand – as well as portions of the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the Terai region. It will then cover Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and up to the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram. Once implemented, the project will facilitate greater evacuation at ports, thus increasing international trade.

According to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), 80 per cent of the total road length of each package is proposed to be two-laned with paved shoulders. The Centre will fund most of the project, however,  some works will be funded through public-private partnerships.

Bharat Mala

New plan of action

The central government has decided to expand the scope of the Bharat Mala Programme. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH)  has decided to combine the scope of work undertaken through schemes such as Setu Bharatam, Char Dham Connectivity and the National Highways Development Programme and implement them under an umbrella scheme. According to reports released in January 2016, the MoRTH has prepared a cabinet note on the Bharat Mala project, which envisages the construction of 25,000 km of roads along India’s borders, coastal areas, ports, religious and tourist places as well as over 100 district headquarters at a combined cost of Rs 2.6 trillion. The MoRTH aims to complete the mega project by 2022.

The government plans to spend Rs 800 billion on the Bharat Mala programme, which will entail the construction of 7,000 km of border and coastal roads, Rs 850 billion for the provision of connectivity to religious and tourist places and Rs 300 billion on Setu Bharatam, under which 1,500 bridges and overbridges will be constructed. The government also plans to build 9,000 km of roads connecting over 123 district headquarters at an investment of Rs 600 billion, another 7,000 km in backward areas at a cost of

Rs 800 billion and the 900 km Char Dham stretch, connecting Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, at an investment of Rs 117 billion. While most of the projects under the umbrella scheme will be government funded, some works can be undertaken on a PPP basis. Soft loans from multilateral funding agencies could also be taken by the government to cover part of the cost.

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Project update

The project is currently awaiting official launch. The MoRTH and NHAI are in the process of identifying stretches to be developed in the first leg of the programme. NHAI has been entrusted with the task of preparing project reports for 3,543 km of the network. In July 2015, the Sabroom-Kukital in Assam and Khowai subdivision-Agartala stretches in Tripura were added to the project scope, to be developed at an investment of Rs 8 billion. Also, the 67 km Poonch-Uri stretch and Qazitur section of National Highway (NH)-1 in Jammu & Kashmir have been proposed to be included in the project at a cost of Rs 13 billion.

In November 2015, NHAI shortlisted eight companies for the appointment of a consultant to provide project management consultancy services. According to reports in February 2016, NHAI has awarded consultancy contracts for 2,816 km of roads to be developed as part of the Bharat Mala project. The scope of work will include conducting feasibility studies and preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs). The projects have been awarded in Bihar, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.