Views of R.K. Pandey: “Bharatmala aims to optimise the efficiency of freight and passenger movement”

“Bharatmala aims to optimise the efficiency of freight and passenger movement”

The Bharatmala programme is being lauded as a game changer for the highways sector. The programme has the capability of revolutionising the way freight moves on Indian highways. The targets set are bold and ambitious. At a recent conference on Road Development in India organised by India Infrastructure, R.K. Pandey, Member (Projects), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), shared his views on the performance of the road sector and potential for growth…

India has a road network of 5.5 million km, the second largest in the world. Of the total length, national highways account for about 2 per cent, covering 0.12 million of the total road network. However, in terms of traffic, national highways carry more than 40 per cent of the total traffic. In the 1990s, the country’s road sector was marred by several inefficiencies including fund constraints and the project-specific approach of the government. It was only in the early 2000s that NHAI switched from its project-specific approach to a new approach involving the development of road corridors. Following this, the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP), the largest highway project ever undertaken in the country was conceived. Under the programme, about 50,000 km of highways were targeted for development. At present, 30,000 km of the road network stands completed and another 10,000 km is under implementation.

However, despite the vigour with which the NHDP was launched, some long-standing issues related to technology deployment, non-uniformity in the planning process, and other pre-construction constraints still remain. In light of the inadequacies of the corridor approach, various origin-destination studies were undertaken across 600 districts to find a complete solution and follow the network approach instead.

The Bharatmala Pariyojana has been conceptualised as an umbrella programme for corridor-based development across the highways sector. It focuses on optimising the efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country and bridging critical infrastructure gaps. Phase I of the programme was launched in October 2017. The development of a total of 24,800 km of road works will be taken up in Phase I of the programme. In addition, the scope of work of Phase I also includes 10,000 km of balance road works under the NHDP. To date, contracts for projects spanning about 5,000 km have been awarded.

The various categories of corridors that have been proposed to be developed under Phase I are economic corridors (9,000 km at a cost of Rs 1,200 billion), inter-corridors and feeder roads (6,000 km at a cost of Rs 800 billion), national corridor efficiency improvement works (5,000 km at a cost of Rs 1,000 billion), border and international connectivity roads (2,000 km at a cost of Rs 250 billion), coastal and port connectivity roads (2,000 km at a cost of Rs 200 billion) and expressways (800 km at a cost of Rs 400 billion).

Port connectivity is one of the major components of Bharatmala. It will involve industrial development along the coastal region, facilitate the movement of cargo and improve port-road connectivity. Over 2,000 km of coastal roads have been identified to be developed under this component. Another important component of the programme involves providing connectivity to neighbouring countries. It has been conceptualised along the lines of the “Look East” policy of the government.

Phase I is being implemented over a period of five years – 2017-18 to 2021-22. The projects under the phase are to be implemented through NHAI, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and state public works departments.

In view of the failures of the build-operate- transfer model-based projects under the NHDP, the new modes of implementation that have been introduced under Bharatmala are the engineering, procurement and construction and the hybrid annuity models. Besides, around Rs 340 billion is expected to be raised through asset monetisation. One of the major steps that have been taken to facilitate project execution is mandating the acquisition of 80 per cent of the land before awarding the project.

In the long run, NHAI aims to achieve the targets set and complete Phase I of Bharatmala within the stipulated time period. Upon completion, the programme is expected to optimise the efficiency of traffic movement on roads through the adoption of a coherent corridor approach. However, to meet the ambitious targets set forth, there is a need to maintain and further enhance the momentum of award and construction activity seen during the previous years.