Modest Progress

Road development in the Northeast paces up

Over the five years since starting operations, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) has taken rapid strides in the development of road infrastructure in the Northeast. The corporation promotes, surveys, establishes, designs, builds, operates, maintains and upgrades national highways and strategic roads, including interconnecting roads, in the Northeast.

The corporation’s project portfolio comprises works under the BharatmalaPariyojana, the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme, the South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation Programme, works under National Highway (Original), ChardhamMahamargVikasPariyojana in Uttarakhand and rehabilitation/ upgradation of ”orphan roads” under the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region.

NHIDCL’s portfolio

As of February 2020, NHIDCL is engaged in the development of 278 projects spanning about 11,172 km in length at an estimated cost of Rs 1.79 trillion. Of these, for 138 projects spanning 3,267 km, civil works are ongoing, while detailed project reports are being prepared for the balance 140 projects spanning about 7,905 km.

 NHIDCL’s award and completion activity

As of February 2020, NHIDCL had awarded a total of 134 projects, spanning a length of over 3,200 km. Award activity has been declining in the Northeast over the past three-four years, with the number of projects awarded declining since 2016-17. In 2019-20, only seven projects had been awarded by NHIDCL till February 2020. The maximum number of projects were awarded in 2016-17 (44 projects), while the maximum length of approximately 1,052 km was awarded in 2017-18. A state-wise analysis of the awarded projects reveals that Arunachal Pradesh had the maximum number of awarded projects (32 projects). This was followed by Assam (18 projects) and Nagaland (17 projects). As of August 2019, NHIDCL has completed about 1,350 km of road projects in the region.

Challenges along the way

NHIDCL has been facing numerous challenges in timely implementation of projects in the north-eastern region. One of the major challenges faced by the corporation is the difficult topography of the region. The Northeast is characterised by mountainous and difficult terrains, accompanied by heavy rainfall, resulting in a working season of only four-five months in a year. Besides, land acquisition remains a perennial challenge in this region too, leading to implementation delays and cost escalations. Several initiatives, such as the launch of BhoomiRashi (a web utility for land acquisition-related processes) and local engagement are being taken to resolve this issue. Another major challenge is NHIDCL’s heavy dependence on third-party engineers and engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) contractors. Most of the corporation’s projects are executed on an EPC basis, wherein a contractor and authority’s engineer (AE) are appointed. The work of the AE also needs to be cross-checked, leading to greater effort and thus time overruns. Further, concerns regarding the financial viability of projects, insufficient private investment and the reluctance of contractors to execute projects in hilly regions also hinder project implementation. Lack of a skilled workforce has also been cited as a major challenge. NHIDCL on its part has been focusing on skill development and is upskilling workers at its project sites under the PradhanMantriKaushalVikasYojana in collaboration with the National Skill Development Corporation. Some of the other challenges faced by the corporation are limited local techno-managerial capacities, obtaining statutory clearances, utility shifting, and those associated with slope stabilisation and cross-drainage structures.

Going forward, NHIDCL aims to mitigate these challenges and ensure fast-paced construction of national highways and other infrastructure in the north-eastern region and other strategic areas of the country. It 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 states in the Northeast.

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