Roads and bridges

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has fixed a 2.5- fold increase in the target for award and construction of national highways for 2016–17. The ministry has set a target of 25,000 km of national highways to be awarded in 2016–17 as against the 10,000 km awarded in 2015–16. The construction target has been set at 15,000 km as against the 6,000 km constructed last year. Of the total length of national highways targeted for award, 15,000 km will fall under the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) target and 10,000 km will come under the target for MoRTH and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). The construction target for NHAI has been fixed at 8,000 km while that for the ministry and NHIDCL is 7,000 km.

NHAI has rolled out a cashless payment mechanism (FASTag) at toll plazas on national highways. FASTag offers near-non-stop movement of vehicles through toll plazas and the convenience of cashless payment of toll fee with nationwide interoperable electronic toll collection (ETC) services. With a one-time fee of Rs 200, FASTag is operational at over 275 toll plazas on national highways across the country. The tag is affixed on the windscreen of the vehicle and employs radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for making toll payments directly from prepaid accounts linked to it. The central government has allowed NHAI to give a 10 per cent cash-back incentive to FASTag users on toll payments during 2016–17. In Phase I, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank will be the two participating banks, while in Phase II other banks and mobile wallet operators will join this endeavour. More toll points and points of sale will be added soon. The National Payments Corporation of India is building a national clearing house for the efficient handling of interoperability between banks, toll plaza operators, and other entities.

NHAI has permitted its regional officers (ROs) to hire equipment and labourers (up to Rs 1 million per project) for demolishing structures that fall within the right of way of a project. As some contracts had no provision for the demolition of such structures, there would often be protracted correspondence between contractors, project directors and the NHAI headquarters before these could be removed, leading to delays in project execution. With the delegation of power to ROs, NHAI will be able to make encumbrance- free land available more speedily to the concessionaire/contractor. ROs have also been instructed to ensure the measurement of such structures (with videography) for record-keeping purposes. Besides, NHAI has recently delegated powers to ROs for the construction of foot overbridges under the change of scope clause (up to Rs 8 million) and for four/six-laning projects (up to Rs 10 million). ROs have also been given the power for the maintenance of highways requiring urgent repair works up to a cost of Rs 10 million. Further, the chief general manager (technical), jointly with ROs, has also been given the power to shift power transmission lines, and water pipelines and other utilities up to a cost of Rs 100 million and Rs 50 million respectively. These steps are expected to cut down delays in project completion.

NHAI has come up with a proposal to decongest Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) through the construction of roads, flyovers and underpasses. NHAI has created a separate cell to work on decongesting Delhi and the NCR, which comprises 13 districts of Haryana, seven of Uttar Pradesh and two of Rajasthan. The authority has proposed the provision of efficient connectivity through the connection of radial routes from the Outer Ring Road with the eastern and western peripheral expressway. It has also proposed to connect Azadpur to Sonepat, Kashmere Gate to Baghpat, Nizamuddin Bridge to Dasna, Lajpat Nagar to Kherli Kankar in Haryana and Bhikaji Cama Place to NBRC Gate on National Highway-8 in Haryana. The plan has been put on NHAI’s website. Architects, town planners and citizens had till April 30, 2016 to give their suggestions and comments to the authority.

The cabinet has given its approval for the signing of an MoU between India and Bhutan on technical cooperation in the fields of capacity building, benchmarking, and bilateral exchange in infrastructure engineering. This MoU will allow the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to gain experience in terms of road construction in the hills, which is of paramount importance in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and various states in the Northeast. The CPWD also expects to undertake some road construction projects in Bhutan.