Progress in the Northeast: Views of NHIDCL’s Satyabrata Sahu

Views of NHIDCL’s Satyabrata Sahu

National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) was incorporated by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) in July 2014, with the mandate of constructing roads, bridges and tunnels in hilly areas and the north-eastern states. Satyabrata Sahu, director, administration and finance, NHIDCL, spoke about the progress made by the organisation since its inception, its increased thrust on skill development and future plans and strategies. Excerpts…

NHIDCL was formed in order to provide a more focused approach for improving infrastructure and resolving issues pertaining to infrastructure creation in the region, even though the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and state public works departments (PWDs) had already been undertaking projects in the Northeast and hilly regions. NHIDCL is actively pursuing the central government’s “Look East” policy which aims to promote economic cooperation and cultural ties and develop a strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, thereby providing enhanced connectivity to the states of the Northeast.

Step by step

NHIDCL has been entrusted with the implementation of 312 projects spanning 13,370 km across 13 states. Taken together, these projects entail an investment of Rs 2.11 trillion. Over the past two and a half years, the corporation has completed work on projects spanning a length of 800 km in 11 states. Of the 312 projects, construction work is ongoing in 110 projects, while the remaining are at different stages of project development, such as detailed project report (DPR) preparation, land acquisition, etc.

Of the total length entrusted to NHIDCL, around 2,404 km will be developed under the Special Accelerated Road Development Project for the Northeast Region, 1,585 km under the National Highway (Original) scheme, and over 1,130 km is being implemented through funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank. Projects spanning 4,998 km will be taken up under the Bharatmala Pariyojana. Further, about 1,656 km of roads have been approved in principle as national highways, and 79 km of roads have been handed over to NHIDCL by the North Eastern Council. Other types of district and state road projects to be developed by the organisation span the remaining 1,517 km. Till date, NHIDCL has awarded 2,859 km of projects worth Rs 468 billion. During 2018-19, it plans to award another 2,651 km. In terms of number of projects, a maximum of 86 projects spanning 3,261 km are to be undertaken in Assam, followed by 43 projects spanning 2,374 km in Manipur and 38 projects spanning 1,150 km in Arunachal Pradesh. In terms of the investment requirement, Assam leads with

Rs 538 billion, followed by Manipur (Rs 273 billion) and Jammu & Kashmir (Rs 228 billion). At present, NHIDCL is undertaking DPR preparation for about 7,200 km of roads.

In order to undertake this vast scale of projects, over the next three years NHIDCL will have a huge requirement for machinery such as earthmoving equipment, rock breakers, rollers/ compactors, transit vehicles, mobile crusher plants, etc.

Noteworthy projects

The major projects undertaken by the organisation over the past two and a half years include the Mahadevpur-Buridehing, the Longdin-Kanubari, Hunli-Anini, Bormdusa-Namchik, and Akajan-Likabali-Bame road projects, all in Arunachal Pradesh, and the Imphal-Jiribam road project in Manipur. Further, NHIDCL has also successfully completed around 4 km of the 6.5 km Z-Morh tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir and is expected to complete the tunnel by March 2020. It has also commenced construction work on the 14.2 km Zojila tunnel project in the state. Once completed, these tunnels will provide round-the-year connectivity between Srinagar and Leh and reduce the travel time between the two regions by six hours. In addition, the 4.2 km Chand-Khera bridge over the Brahmaputra river is also nearing completion, while the foundation stone for the 330 km bridge over the Humphrey Strait Creek in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands has also been laid.

In June 2018, the central government inaugurated the Matabari-Sabroom section of the Agartala-Udaipur-Sabroom project. Once completed, the bridge will connect Tripura and other landlocked north-eastern states to Bangladesh’s Chittagong seaport.

NHIDCL is also undertaking several critical international connectivity projects in order to enhance road connectivity with neighbouring countries and facilitate trade and commerce. These include the Feni bridge on the India-Bangladesh border, the Mechi bridge on the Indo-Nepal border, and the Imphal-Moreh road to Myanmar.

Most of the projects being undertaken by NHIDCL are being executed on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) basis, wherein an EPC contractor is engaged to take up the civil works while an authority’s engineer (AE) is appointed to supervise the progress of the work. The appointed AE firm is paid on a monthly basis, and released only after the work has been cross-checked by the respective branch officers of NHIDCL. Thus, the mode of implementation is somewhat similar to the public-private partnership model, as NHIDCL is largely dependent on private AE firms for project execution.

The way forward

In sum, NHIDCL has identified key strategies to accelerate growth. These include the use of e-tools such as e-office, e-monitoring and e-access to bring about efficiency and transparency in all the processes associated with road development; revisiting procedures and processes currently followed in order to enhance ease of doing business in infrastructure sectors; and facilitating use of new and appropriate technologies to enhance quality, durability, execution speed, cost reduction, safety standards and address environmental concerns. Further, it also aims to undertake continuous capacity building of staff and stakeholders including contractors, develop a platform to enable exchange of ideas in order to bring in innovation, provide a mechanism for speedy dispute resolution to avoid unnecessary litigation and conduct regular consultations with stakeholders to ensure timely execution of projects.

NHIDCL has also laid special emphasis on skill development. Under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, it is upskilling workers in the use of infrastructure equipment at its project sites, in collaboration with the National Skill Development Corporation. Further, it has collaborated with IL&FS to provide skill development training at the Zojila tunnel. It is also undertaking skill development programmes for around 500 workmen in the north-eastern region.

Under its “Vision for 2022”, the corporation aims to provide connectivity to all districts of the region, develop border roads envisaged under the Bharatmala Pariyojana, take up the construction of economic corridors to facilitate trade and commerce and provide inland waterway connectivity through feeder routes. By 2022, it also plans to complete the Chardham project in Uttarakhand and construct 69,000 metres of tunnels across different states.

Despite the challenges posed by the difficult topography of the north-eastern region, NHIDCL is hopeful of meeting the targets set by the government and provide connectivity to even the most far-flung areas of the region, over the next five years.