Views of Leena Nandan: “There is a need for all stakeholders in the sector to introspect and identify the errors”

“There is a need for all stakeholders in the sector to introspect and identify the errors”

At a recent conference on “Road Development in India” organised by India Infrastructure, Leena Nandan, additional secretary and financial adviser, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) spoke about how the government has tried to weed out a number of issues related to pre-construction activities to ensure smoother road development in the country. Excerpts…

When we talk about investment in infrastructure, let me digress from the issue of road development to the larger issue of what the government is really thinking on infrastructure development in the country. In terms of new models for encouraging public-private partnerships (PPPs), there are the hybrid annuity model (HAM) and the build-operate-transfer (BOT) toll model that we have experienced for the past few years with hiccups that were primarily due to issues concerning pre-construction clearances and activities. What we really try to look at is problems that were confronting us in practically every project on account of land acquisition, utility shifting, forest clearances and environmental clearances. To a great extent we have tried to get these issues out of the way. The other aspect that we have tried to look at is proactive policies for exiting from projects, rationalised compensation, one-time fund infusion, etc.

When we look at infrastructure and investment in infrastructure, it is a game that two people have to play. On the one hand, the government must have the right policies – whether for new projects or those that are languishing – and it also has to take care of bottlenecks because of which we miss our milestones. On the other hand, from the private sector’s side, the way projects have been structured, and financed, has left quite a lot to be desired.

As a recent development, the first phase of the Imphal-Moreh connectivity project has been sanctioned. It is important to lay emphasis on such projects, as connectivity with our neighbours is one of the key elements of road development in the country. Together with this, we are looking at the proper integration of road and highway development with the Ministry of Shipping’s ambitious flagship Sagarmala programme.

Today, we are in a situation of working very closely with state governments in terms of developing logistics parks in key areas which witness huge freight movement. We have identified seven major locations in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnakata, Gujarat, Assam and Haryana where there are plans to develop multimodal logistics parks.

The MoRTH has also started focusing in a big way on identifying areas which are suitable for the development of wayside amenities according to a well-designed model under the PPP model and undertake operations and maintenance thereafter. Although this may seem like a small area on the face of it, it is likely to have a huge impact all over the country with regard to enhancing the travel experience on Indian roads. Further, the MoRTH has been trying to get into great detail on the whole debate of concrete versus flexible pavements. We are planning to undertake a comprehensive study to understand what is going to be the best formula to adopt. One size fits all is not the right solution for anything in India and this is also true for all the models we develop and put into place. Hence, the ministry aims to develop the right mix of models.

Given the large scale of projects that the MoRTH is executing, we recently tweaked our engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) guidelines to ensure greater involvement of contractors. The element of competition, greater price discovery, and changing the technical eligibility criteria are some aspects of the amended guidelines. The ministry is also encouraging innovative technologies in the areas of detailed project report preparation and road construction. To this end, mobilisation advances are being provided. Meanwhile, the first round of bidding for toll-operate-transfer projects will be conducted in a month’s time.

Ultimately, we are all working towards one common objective of connecting and transforming India through much better infrastructure development in the country.