Steady Growth: NHIDCL’s road development agenda in the Northeast

NHIDCL’s road development agenda in the Northeast

The north-eastern region has been a major focus area for the government during the past five years. In July 2014, the government incorporated National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), with the objective of developing national highways and other infrastructure at a fast pace in the Northeast and strategic areas that share international borders. The company has been entrusted with the task of improving road connectivity in the region by developing about 12,500 km of roads.

Status of projects

As of July 2019, NHIDCL is involved with the implementation of 295 projects spanning about 12,357 km of road length across 13 states and requiring an investment of Rs 1.83 trillion. Of the 295 projects, construction work is in progress for 133 projects spanning 3,241 km, while the balance 162 projects of 9,116 km are in the detailed project report (DPR) preparation stage. State-wise, NHIDCL is implementing 87 projects in Assam (3,461 km), followed by 37 projects in Arunachal Pradesh (1,054 km), 33 projects in Manipur (2,077 km), 25 projects in Nagaland (839 km) and 22 projects in Meghalaya (1,237 km). In terms of investment outlay, projects to the tune of Rs 605 billion are being implemented in Assam, Rs 226 billion in Manipur, Rs 172 billion in Meghalaya and projects worth Rs 131 billion in Mizoram.

Key projects

A number of noteworthy projects have been taken up by NHIDCL since its incorporation and the experience so far has been mixed. One of the most important projects entrusted to the corporation is the Zojila tunnel project in Jammu & Kashmir. The 14.15 km tunnel project will be implemented in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode with an estimated construction period of seven years The project was annulled by the central government after consecutive rounds of failed bids in the past six years.  The contract for the project was earlier awarded to IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited (ITNL), but was eventually scrapped in January 2019, in the absence of any significant progress being made on the project. A fresh tender is expected to be issued by October 2019, once the cabinet approves the project at an escalated total cost estimate of Rs 84 billion, up from Rs 68 billion. The estimated construction cost of the project has been revised to around Rs 66 billion from Rs 54.75 billion. The project is being implemented under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan to provide all-weather road connectivity between Ladakh and Srinagar.

In a noteworthy move, in August 2019, NHIDCL awarded the 6.5 km Z-Morh tunnel project to APCO Infratech Private Limited on the build-operate-transfer model. The Rs 23.78 billion project, initially awarded to ITNL, had been in stasis for about a year. Amid the uncertainty regarding its progress, the corporation had terminated the contract and invited fresh bids in June 2019. Reportedly, ITNL had already completed about 30 per cent work on the project, while the balance work will now be completed by APCO Infratech Private Limited.

The 19.28 km Dhubri-Phulbari bridge in Assam and Meghalaya is set to become India’s longest river bridge once completed. The four-lane bridge project, being implemented under Phase III of the Northeast road network connectivity project, has received administrative approval and is expected to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 49.97 billion. Construction work on the project is expected to be completed in six years. The bridge project will facilitate development of the most economically backward districts in the Northeast by providing a short link between these regions. Currently, the project is facing land acquisition issues and steps are being taken to address them to fast-track project implementation.

Besides, the National Highway (NH)-44 expansion project in Jammu & Kashmir is in full swing. The project entails four-laning of the 35 km Jammu-Akhnoor section of NH-44 at a cost of Rs 22 billion. NHIDCL is implementing the project in two phases in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) mode. The project is expected to be completed in 2021.

The 4.5 km Silkyara-Bend-Barkot tunnel project in Uttarakhand that started in August 2018 has been awarded to Navayuga Eng-ineering Company Limited. The project, being implemented under the Chardham Programme, has already received administrative approval and is expected to entail an investment of Rs 8.54 billion. Currently, about 6.5 per cent progress has been achieved on the project, while the entire project is expected to be completed by August 2022.

Construction work on the Feni river bridge project is expected to be completed by April 2020. Currently, about 40 per cent of the work has been completed. The project, being implemented by NHIDCL, involves the construction of a 1.88 km extradosed reinforced concrete bridge including the viaduct and approaches over the Feni river on the Indo-Bangladesh border on NH-8 (old NH-44) in Tripura, at a cost of Rs 1.29 billion. NHIDCL had awarded the EPC project to Dineshchandra R. Agrawal Infracon Private Limited.

The way forward

Over the past few years, the north-eastern region has witnessed remarkable progress in terms of infrastructure development. However, there is still a lot of headway to be made. The government has been facing a number of challenges in ensuring successful implementation of projects in the region. From NHIDCL’s perspective, issues pertaining to financial viability of projects, participation from banks and private investors, land acquisition cost, clearances, skilled manpower, reluctance of contractors to execute projects in hilly regions, environmental stability and a stressed private sector continue to hinder timely project completion. It is necessary to address these challenges to ensure holistic development of the north-eastern region.