Over the past couple of years, the central government has taken several innovative initiatives to facilitate road development. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has focused on the augmentation of existing infrastructure as well as the development of new roads and bridges. To this end, the ministry has launched programmes such as the Bharat Mala and the Setu Bharatam. Meanwhile, technology continues to be a key focus area of the MoRTH and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). While FASTag deployment has gained momentum, the government has also launched several online portals and systems to improve service delivery and project execution.
Indian Infrastructure looks at the key initiatives taken by the MoRTH and NHAI…
Connecting Indian borders
The Bharat Mala programme is one among several big-ticket projects launched by the central government in the past year. The programme envisages the development of 25,000 km of roads through improving road connectivity to coastal/border areas, backward areas, religious places and places of tourist interest. Moreover, it also aims at constructing/rehabilitating/widening major bridges and railway overbridges (RoBs) on national highways, improving newly declared national highways and ensuring connectivity to district headquarters. The programme is expected to be implemented at a total cost of Rs 2.6 trillion.
While most of the works under the programme will be funded by the central government, a few are likely to be implemented on a public private partnership basis. However, as of August 2016, the financial and procurement details of the programme were yet to be finalised.
Thrust on bridge development and asset management
In a bid to make all national highways free of railway level crossings by 2019, the ministry launched the Setu Bharatam programme in March 2016. The programme entails the construction of RoBs or underpasses at all 208 level crossings in the country at an investment of
Rs 208 billion. Of the 208 projects, 33 bridges have been proposed in Andhra Pradesh, 22 in West Bengal and 20 in Bihar. As of March 2016, the MoRTH had completed the preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for 73 RoBs. Besides, the programme’s scope also includes the upgradation and improvement of about 1,500 old bridges at a cost of Rs 300 billion.
Further, the MoRTH also launched an Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS) in October 2016, to undertake inventory management of all national highway bridges. Conceptualised in August 2015, the IBMS will help create a database of deficient bridges in the country and suggest remedial measures for them. The system has been developed by IDDC Engineers Private Limited.
The IBMS is expected to collect details of over 150,000 bridges and assess their structural conditions, on the basis of age and quality. So far, an inventory of 115,000 bridges has been taken, of which about 85,000 are culverts. The system takes the help of mobile inspection units to inventorise this data. In addition, the compiled database is expected to ease the movement of over-dimension and overweight consignments on national highways. The MoRTH has allocated about Rs 3 billion for the IBMS. Moreover, 11 consultancy firms have been appointed to undertake the project.
FASTag deployment picks up
Deployment of electronic toll collection (ETC) systems through FASTag has been on the rise in the past few months. FASTag, a simple to use, reloadable tag which enables the automatic deduction of toll charges and allows passage through a toll plaza without stopping for cash transactions, is now active at about 330 toll plazas across the country. During June 2016, the sale of FASTag crossed the 10,000 mark, while ETC transactions crossed Rs 10 million. Initially, NHAI had partnered only with ICICI Bank and Axis Bank to sell e-toll tags and the tag recharge option. However, to expand reach, Paytm, Punjab National Bank, the State Bank of India and IDFC Bank have also been roped in. Besides, as per reports released in February 2016, NHAI has approached the National Payments Corporation of India to set up an interbank clearing house to enable e-tolling across 350 toll plazas in the country.
As per a study by the Transport Corporation of India and the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, the implementation of a pan-Indian electronic toll collection system on national highways could translate into a saving of Rs 870 billion.
Meanwhile, NHAI is in the process of introducing advanced toll management systems on national highways through the use of automatic traffic and vehicle counters and classifiers, CCTV surveillance, weigh-in motion equipment and static weigh bridges. This will help improve vehicular flow as well as transfer real-time traffic data to the road operator.
In order to provide road users vital and transparent information about national highways and expressways, including applicable user fee rates at toll plazas, a national highways toll information system web portal, www.nhtis.org, has been launched. The GIS-based portal facilitates an easy search of toll booths on the national map.
Technology impetus: Launch of online portals
Over the past two years, the government has launched three online portals – INFRACON, INAM-PRO and ePACE – to make the development of road infrastructure more efficient and transparent.
INFRACON is a comprehensive national portal for infrastructure consultancy firms and key personnel in the road construction sector. It has been developed to enable the appointment of consultants in a more transparent and efficient manner. The portal provides facilities to host the credentials of consultancy firms and personnel online, with the option of linking them to Aadhar and Digilocker for data validation. The portal is expected to significantly reduce paperwork during bid submissions and allow transparency and speedy evaluation of technical bids. As of October 6, 2016, a total of 618 consultancy firms and 3,864 key personnel under various categories are registered on the portal.
Further, in October 2015, the government mandated that the appointment of consultants for all projects of the MoRTH, NHAI, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), Indian Academy of Highway Engineers and other state agencies working on national highway projects, will be done only through the list uploaded on INFRACON.
The second portal, INAM-PRO, was launched by the government in March 2015 to act as a web-based marketplace for infrastructure developers, material providers and prospective buyers. The platform allows contractors and cement buyers engaged in executing road construction projects to place their cement orders online with registered companies. Till October 2, 2016 the portal had registered 579 buyers and 41 cement companies. These companies offer cement at competitive rates and in the vicinity of project locations. Moreover, cement suppliers can also update the stock offered and its price on the online portal. As of August 2016, 265,000 tonnes of cement has been provided through the portal. However, as per industry reports, the portal is not being utilised as per expectations. While buyers have been using INAM-PRO to get estimates of the prevailing market prices, most of the actual transactions are still occurring offline.
Neverthless, the government is planning to expand the scope of the portal. It has recently incorporated the sale of other construction materials such as steel and steel slag on the platform, thus making it a more comprehensive e-marketplace. The ministry now plans to introduce payment gateway facilities on INAM-PRO. Further, in the future, material, technology and equipment providers will all be able to market their products on the portal.
In addition, in May 2016, the central government launched ePACE, a portal for project appraisal and continuing enhancements. An online integrated management information system, ePACE enables the real-time tracking of all projects undertaken by the MORTH, NHAI and NHIDCL. Project details (such as status and funding) for over 2,200 projects are available on the portal. It also incorporates a GIS-based interface to enable geo-tracking of projects.
Other key initiatives
Some of the other key initiatives undertaken by the MoRTH and NHAI are the launch of the Highway Advisory System (HAS) which is to be implemented in three phases. In March 2016, a pilot project (Phase I) to install HAS on the Delhi-Jaipur highway was undertaken. The project aims at gathering real-time information on the highway from concessionaires, patrol vehicles, toll plazas and traffic marshals. This information is to be transmitted to the HAS control centre for processing and analysis. The MoRTH, in collaboration with All India Radio (AIR), plans to use the data to broadcast live traffic updates and safety information. About 22 information bulletins are expected to be issued every day on AIR’s FM radio stations in Delhi, Alwar and Jaipur. Further, Phases II and III of the HAS will involve the augmentation of the broadcasting infrastructure and digitisation of alerts.
Besides this, in a bid to improve the project preparation process, in January 2016, NHAI signed an MoU with the National Remote Sensing Centre under the Indian Space Research Organisation and the North East Centre for Technology Application and Research (NECTAR) for the use of spatial technology to monitor and manage national highways. NECTAR uses unmanned aerial vehicles for acquiring aerial images for infrastructure planning. The use of satellite data and geospatial technology will be useful in providing inputs for highway and infrastructure projects in the preparation of DPRs, prefeasibility status in new alignments, upgradation/road widening, monitoring of road segments under construction and the upcoming Road Asset Management System.
A host of initiatives and systems have been put in place by the ministry, through which the government aims to make road building procedures faster, and more transparent and efficient. Progress under these initiatives has been mixed. Technology-related initiatives have been welcome and have infused the much-needed professionalism in processes. The sector, however, still awaits clarity on the scope and size of the Bharat Mala programme. The industry is hopeful that these steps will improve service delivery.