Giving an impetus to road development in the Northeast has been a topic of discussion for several years now. More recently, the talks have translated into progress on the ground. Till about four years ago, major road development schemes such as the National Highways Development Programme had limited reach in the region. The incorporation of National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL) gave a new lease of life to the region’s sluggish road sector. Going forward, India’s recent cooperation agreement with Japan, aiming to attract larger investments in the Northeast, bodes well for the region’s growth. The high-paced implementation of projects will not only spur economic growth in the region, but also help catalyse the implementation of India’s Act East policy, by providing enhanced connectivity to the Northeast, for promoting economic cooperation and developing a strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The big picture
As of August 2017, NHIDCL has been involved in the implementation of 220-225 projects, spanning over 11,000 km, with a total civil cost of over Rs 11 trillion, of which around 105 projects are either currently under implementation or have been awarded. State-wise, Arunachal Pradesh accounts for the highest number of projects undertaken by NHIDCL, followed by Assam and Manipur.
Meanwhile, road development in the Northeast has progressed significantly under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ (MoRTH) Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North East (SARDP-NE), launched in 2005. Over the past three years (2014-15 to 2016-17), the ministry has incurred an expenditure of Rs 147.92 billion under SARDP-NE and Rs 9.82 billion under the National Highway (Original) programme for the construction of national highways in the region.
Further, the central government has recently approved Phase I of the North East Road Network Connectivity Project, which involves the development of national highways spanning a length of 52 km in Meghalaya and 351 km in Mizoram. The project will be implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction basis at an estimated cost of about Rs 67 billion. Meanwhile, civil and maintenance works for the project are expected to be completed by 2021 and 2025 respectively. This ambitious project will receive loan assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency that recently signed an agreement with the central government to provide close to Rs 40 billion for Phase I of the project.
Up for grabs
With regard to upcoming projects, NHIDCL has identified a number of projects that will have a significant role to play in bolstering cross-border ties. In Mizoram, it is implementing a Rs 60 billion project which will connect north Mizoram to the southern part of the state, while providing onward connectivity to the Kaladan multimodal hub in Myanmar. The project will also provide connectivity to Sittwe port in Myanmar through Mizoram to the entire north-eastern region. Another key upcoming project entails the development of the Imphal-Moore section which forms a part of the Trilateral Highway connecting India with Myanmar and Thailand. Other iconic projects in the pipeline include the construction of bridges across the Feni river in Tripura and the Mechi river in north Bengal. Notably, several big contractors have already evinced interest in implementing these projects.
Some of the major issues facing road construction in the Northeast are essentially region-specific. The working season for contractors is only four to five months in a year owing to the heavy rains experienced during the remaining months, leaving a very small window for construction works to be completed. Other challenges include those associated with slope stabilisation and cross-drainage structures. These structures cost almost
Rs 30 million-Rs 40 million per km, a substantial portion of the total project cost. While NHIDCL has deployed adequate financial and technological resources to effectively install such structures, greater focus will be needed on innovative technological models going forward. Meanwhile, land acquisition and forest clearances are other challenges that need to be addressed.
The road ahead
India’s cooperation with Japan for boosting infrastructure development in the Northeast has already placed the region on a growth trajectory. This will not only drive economic growth in the region, but will also enhance India’s connectivity with Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, with increasing connectivity infrastructure and cooperation with neighbouring countries, the Northeast can become a major trading and economic hub.