National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), a fully owned company of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, has been able to infuse the much-needed momentum in road development in the Northeast within about two years of commencing operations.
As of March 15, 2017, NHIDCL has been entrusted with the development of 164 national highway projects spanning 8,184 km, at a cost of around Rs 1,100 billion. Between 2014-15 and 2016-17 (January 15, 2017), it awarded 56 projects in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand.
Assessing all the NHIDCL-mandated projects, the state of Manipur offers the maximum investment opportunity in terms of total project cost (including land acquisition costs) at about Rs 206 billion, followed by Assam at Rs 179 billion, and Jammu & Kashmir at Rs 152 billion. Meanwhile, in terms of length too, Manipur has the maximum proposed project length of 1,751 km spanning 24 projects. Arunachal Pradesh, with 35 projects spanning 1,035 km, follows next.
The level of activity in most states in 2014-15 remained subdued, with Assam taking the lead and bagging 10 projects. In 2015-16 too, the scenario was similar, with only a handful of states being awarded projects. However, in 2016-17 (as of January 15, 2017), the pace of project award increased with states such as Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim also bagging projects, resulting in a more equal project award among states where NHIDCL operates.
As of December 31, 2016, the highest number of projects has been awarded in Arunachal Pradesh (16 projects covering a length of 400 km and costing about Rs 44.64 billion), followed by Assam (13 projects spanning 336 km and being implemented at an estimated cost of Rs 93.38 billion) and Manipur (6 projects covering 179 km and costing Rs 2.4 billion). Further, the improvement of National Highway (NH)-39 between Imphal and Kohima in Nagaland is being undertaken with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Meanwhile, in Mizoram, the detailed project report (DPR) for the upgradation of the Aizawl-Tuipang section of NH-54 with a design length of 351.16 km has been finalised and the project is likely to be executed with JICA assistance. In Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, NHIDCL is executing DPR preparation works.
While the overall progress is impressive, the projects are fraught with issues owing to the difficult terrain and geological challenges. For example, in Assam, the two-laning of NH-38 bypassing Digboi, Powai, Margherita and Ledo towns has been terminated while in the project involving four-laning of NH-37 section from the end of the Moran Bypass to Bogibeel Junction, the contractor has sought extension of time and invoked arbitration.
Over 10,000 km of roads have been identified to be developed by NHIDCL by 2020, at an investment of about Rs 1.3 trillion. Besides, as per India Infrastructure Research, NHIDCL has floated tenders for the appointment of contractors for 20 projects at an estimated cost of Rs 91 billion. It has also invited consultancy bids for the preparation of feasibility studies/DPRs of projects spanning around 1,000 km.
In a nutshell, NHIDCL’s efforts to ensure road development in the Northeast in terms of project identification and award are certainly laudable. Besides, the company is also aiming to become a Fortune 500 company and, for this, has adopted effective and transparent IT initiatives like, e-Office, e-Tendering, e-Monitoring and e-Access. However, it remains to be seen how the company overcomes the existing challenges of land acquisition, forest clearance, litigations, undulating terrain, difficulties in arranging funds, etc., to ensure the timely completion of projects and contribute to the development of a robust road network in the Northeast.