Steady Improvement: A look at the progress in the Northeast

A look at the progress in the Northeast

The north-eastern region has received a lot of attention from the government in the past four years. The region saw the incorporation of a dedicated agency to take up its road development agenda. Incorporated in July 2014, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Limited (NHIDCL) is mandated to construct roads, bridges and tunnels in hilly areas and the north-eastern states with difficult terrain. It has completed many notable works in the Northeast including the Mahadevpur-Buridehing road project, the Bormdusa-Namchik project and the Akajan-Likabali-Bame road, all in Arunachal Pradesh. These projects have improved connectivity across the region.

Status of projects

As of August 2018, the total number of projects managed by NHIDCL stood at 312, requiring an investment of Rs 2.11 trillion and spanning about 13,370 km across 13 states. Of the 312 projects, construction work is ongoing for 110, while the others are at different stages of project development (detailed project report [DPR] preparation, land acquisition, etc.). The implementation of most of the projects in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will take place in the next five years. Of the 13,370 km, NHIDCL has awarded 2,859 km in length (at an investment of about Rs 468.17 billion) and has completed 656 km. Further, 2,651 km is planned to be awarded during 2018-19. The balance 7,204 km is currently under DPR preparation.

Bridges and tunnels

The development of bridges and tunnels has also been a key focus area for NHIDCL. The Chand-Khera bridge on the Assam-Tripura border is nearing completion. NHIDCL is also constructing the 4.2 km bridge over the Brahmaputra river connecting Shonitpur and Nagaon. The foundation stone for the construction of a major bridge over the Humphrey Strait Creek in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands has also been laid. The Rs 2.77 billion project spanning 1.45 km is progressing but at a slow pace. Besides, works under the 6.5 km Z-Morh tunnel near Gagangeer on the Srinagar-Leh highway are expected to be completed by March 2020. So far, a length of about 4 km has been developed.

The upcoming Zojila tunnel is the longest tunnel in Asia. The foundation stone for the project was laid in May 2018 and construction work has reportedly commenced. This tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. Expected to be completed by May 2025, this 14.2 km bidirectional tunnel will reduce the travel time from three and a half hours at present to just 15 minutes. The total cost of this project is around Rs 68.09 billion.

A steady march forward

In its Vision 2022 document, NHIDCL plans to ensure district connectivity to all the districts in the Northeast region, and the development of border roads envisaged under Bharatmala, economic corridors for trade and commerce, inland waterway connectivity through feeder routes, the Char Dham project in Uttarakhand and about 6,800 metres of tunnels across different states. The north-eastern region has most definitely gained ground in terms of economic development and especially infrastructure development. However, this does not take away the fact that there is still a lot of headway to be made. Undertaking this development is not without challenges and a number of them need to be addressed for smooth progress in the future. From NHIDCL’s perspective, dependence on third-party engineers and engineering, procurement and construction contractors, and land acquisition issues are some of the problems that hinder timely completion of projects. Overcoming these challenges will pave the way for holistic development of the north-eastern region and enable it to benefit from the country’s overall economic development.