The central government has initiated a number of programmes to improve the country’s road network. These programmes focus on the augmentation of existing infrastructure as well as development of new roads and bridges. The key initiatives launched by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) are the Bharatmala, and Setu Bharatam programmes and the North East Road Network Connectivity Project.
In July 2017, the Public Investment Board (PIB) accorded approval to the Rs 10 trillion Bharatmala programme, which involves the development of around 51,000 km of road length comprising economic corridors, coastal roads and expressways, to be implemented in phases. In the first phase, around 29,000 km has been planned to be developed at an estimated cost of Rs 5.5 trillion. At present, the project is awaiting cabinet clearance.
Bharatmala aims to replace the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP). Under this programme, most of the projects will be implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis, while giving full autonomy to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), irrespective of the project cost. However, in some cases, projects will be implemented on a public-private partnership basis, after obtaining clearance from the MoRTH.
Meanwhile, a detailed project report prepared by global consultancy firm AT Kearney has identified 44 economic corridors for development including the Mumbai-Cochin-Kanyakumari, Bengaluru-Mangaluru, Hyderabad-Panaji and Sambalpur-Ranchi corridors. These economic corridors will help open up India’s hinterland to development.
In March 2016, the central government launched the Setu Bharatam programme for building bridges for safe and seamless travel on national highways. The programme aims to make all national highways free of railway level crossings by 2019. It involves the construction of 208 road overbridges (RoBs)/road underbridges at a cost of Rs 208 billion. In addition, about 1,500 old bridges will be replaced or improved by widening or strengthening in a phased manner at a cost of about Rs 300 billion. As of August 2017, the feasibility study of 87 RoBs has been completed. The visual condition survey of bridges on national highways has been undertaken under the Indian Bridge Management System. Of the bridges, 147 have been found to be substandard, and require detailed study. Till now, Rs 0.86 billion has been spent on the implementation of the project.
North East Road Network Connectivity Project
In March 2017, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the implementation of 403 km of road projects under the North East Road Network Connectivity Project (Phase I) in the states of Meghalaya and Mizoram. Of the approved length, 52 km will be constructed in Meghalaya and 351 km in Mizoram. The project, which will be implemented on an EPC basis, has been approved at a revised estimated cost of Rs 67.21 billion (including the cost of land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation, and other pre-construction activities) and will be funded by the government. Meanwhile, civil works and maintenance works are expected to be completed by 2021 and 2025 respectively. Two-laning of roads will be undertaken with loan assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The road ahead
The overall outlook for the sector is quite optimistic. The need of the hour is the sound implementation of projects that have been awarded. Though the government has been successful in infusing the required momentum in award activity, there is a need to ensure that the mistakes made in the past are not repeated. Proper project preparation and due diligence are much-needed steps to ensure that only viable projects are put on the block. NHAI has taken steps towards acquiring land before awarding projects and digitising land acquisition. This is likely to result in sound award and execution of projects in the future. There is a need for a more effective dispute resolution mechanism, proper project development and preparation, and a more balanced risk allocation to ensure timely infrastructure creation.