Initiatives taken in the past four years have strengthened the pace of activity in the road sector and course correction measures have reformed the way projects are being implemented. Signs of improvement were quite conspicuous during 2017-18. Close to 68 per cent of the award target was met during the year. Taking into consideration the performance over the past few years, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has moved towards setting more realistic goals. It has fixed a target of awarding works for around 20,000 km of national highways during the current fiscal year, which is about 25 per cent more than the 17,055 km awarded during 2017-18.
Further, construction targets for 2018-19 have been set at 16,420 km, of which 9,700 km will be constructed by the MoRTH, 6,000 km by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and 720 km by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). This target has been set in view of the ministry’s aim of achieving a construction rate of 40-45 km per day, against 27 km per day constructed during 2017-18.
During 2018-19, the MoRTH plans to focus more on construction, though project awards are also planned to be more than last year. Increased emphasis has been laid on the completion of detailed project reports (DPRs) of all in-principle declared national highways. The ministry has also called for the division of the annual targets into quarterly targets to ensure timely execution as well as the creation of a monitoring group to review performance at regular intervals.
Target 2018-19: The numbers game
Projects to be undertaken by the MoRTH are spread across five zones. Zone I comprises Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar; Zone II comprises Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan; Zone III comprises Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Odisha and Puducherry. Further, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa and Chhattisgarh form a part of Zone IV while Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are a part of Zone V.
A zone-wise analysis indicates that the maximum number of projects (306) will be implemented in Zone IV, followed by 137 in Zone III and 124 in Zone I. In terms of length, around 50 per cent (4,850 km) of the total length to be completed in 2018-19 will be in Zone IV, followed by 21 per cent (2,020 km) in Zone III and 13 per cent (1,260 km) in Zone I.
Of the 692 projects to be undertaken by the MoRTH across the country, the highest number of projects (175) spanning a total of 3,000 km are targeted for construction in Maharashtra. It is followed by 53 projects each in Karnataka and Bihar, spanning 510 km and 280 km respectively. In terms of length too, Maharashtra leads with 3,000 km, followed by 700 km (39 projects) in Madhya Pradesh and 600 km (33 projects) in Chhattisgarh.
During 2018-19, NHAI plans to complete 408 road projects spanning 6,000 km across 24 states. In terms of numbers, Maharashtra is expected to have the highest number of projects completed (50) under NHAI, followed by 45 projects in Uttar Pradesh and 28 in Rajasthan. Length-wise, Uttar Pradesh takes the lead with 553 km, followed by Maharashtra (550 km) and Madhya Pradesh (406 km). NHAI also aims to undertake 15 expressway projects spanning 55 km in 2018-19.
NHIDCL has also set a target of completing 86 road projects spanning 720 km in 2018-19. These projects will be located across 10 states, with the highest number of projects to be undertaken in Arunachal Pradesh (31), followed by Assam (16) and Manipur (14). Of the total length, 26 per cent is targeted for completion in Manipur (185 km), followed by 19 per cent each in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Assam (135 km).
Hits and misses over the years
For 2016-17 and 2017-18, the ministry had set an annual target of awarding 25,000 km of road projects. In 2016-17, 64 per cent of this target was achieved, while in 2017-18, there was a slight improvement in award activity with the MoRTH meeting 68 per cent of its award target. This is in fact a sharp increase from the achievement of 50 per cent during 2014-15, though it is quite low as compared to the 85 per cent achieved during 2015-16.
In terms of project completion, the MoRTH achieved 55 per cent (8,301 km) of its construction target of 15,000 km in 2016-17. During 2017-18, the completion rate increased to 66 per cent (9,829 km) of the targeted 15,000 km.
A year-on-year comparison reveals that the length targeted for award during 2018-19 is 20 per cent less than that in the previous year. However, the length targeted for completion during 2018-19 is the same as in 2017-18.
Reality check needed
According to ICRA, the lowering of the award target from 25,000 km in 2017-18 to 20,000 km in 2018-19 will make the goal of completing 83,677 km by 2021-22, as laid down by the Bharatmala programme, more challenging. As per ICRA estimates, the award target should have been more than doubled from the previous fiscal year. Also, the rate of awarding contracts needs to be more than 70 km per day for the first two years of the programme and a construction rate of 56.85 km needs to be achieved if the Bharatmala targets are to be met.
At present, delays in land acquisition are the biggest impediment with respect to project implementation in the country. There is a need for a more effective dispute resolution mechanism, proper project development and preparation, and a more balanced risk allocation.
Despite these challenges, if the government is successful in infusing the required momentum in award activity and ensuring sound implementation of the awarded projects, it will augur well for the MoRTH’s ambitious Bharatmala programme and prove to be a major game changer for road development in India.