The Bharatmala Pariyojana has been at the centre of road development in the past few years. The launch of the programme has heightened activity in the road sector considerably, both in terms of award as well as execution of projects. Bharatmala envisages the development of about 65,000 km of national highways. Under Phase I of the programme, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has approved the implementation of 34,800 km of national highway projects. When the programme was initially approved, the total cost was estimated to be Rs 5.35 trillion and the programme was expected to be completed by 2021-22. However, the cost has now escalated to about Rs 8.25 trillion, with the major share of this increase attributable to higher land acquisition costs and civil costs. The delays in land acquisition have also shifted the programme’s completion target to 2024-25.
Key components under BharatmalaPariyojana, Phase I
The programme has been divided into six components – economic corridors, inter-corridor and feeder routes, national corridor efficiency improvement, border and international connectivity roads, coastal and port connectivity roads, and expressways. In addition, the completion of the balance works of the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) also comes under the purview of Bharatmala.
The most important category under the programme is economic corridors, which connect points of economic importance, that is, points that are either the origin or destination of freight movement. With the aim of improving the efficiency of national corridors, besides ensuring a consistent user experience, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) conducted a deficiency analysis, under which a benchmark is set for facilities on the entire corridor. Another component of Bharatmala focuses on corridors that facilitate the development of backward areas as well as tourist areas that are not well connected. Similarly, improvement of connectivity to many major and minor ports and development of expressways constitute other important components of the programme.
However, the Bharatmala Pariyojana differs from the NHDP in terms of the planning process. While the government’s emphasis under the NHDP was on upgradation of existing roads, Bharatmala is focused on the construction of greenfield alignments, which provide the benefit of lower land acquisition costs and lower risks, resulting in lower life cycle costs. Greenfield corridor development will not only fast-track project execution by mitigating land acquisition and clearance issues, but will also decongest highways by offering alternative routes for traffic, as well as give an economic boost to backward, underconnected regions in the country. Meanwhile, adequate crossing facilities including underpasses, overpasses, tunnels and bridges, as well as wayside amenities are also being provided on the greenfield roads being constructed under Bharatmala. The programme also envisages the construction of ring roads around select towns and the development of 35 multimodal logistics parks, which are set to reduce logistics cost significantly.
Progress under Bharatmala Pariyojana
Under Phase I of the Bharatmala Pariyojana, the government has already awarded 322 projects spanning about 12,413 km, of which 2,921 km of roads have been constructed as of August 2020. Meanwhile, the authority is ready with detailed project reports for another 20,000 km of roads. It is planning to award 4,500 km under the programme during 2020-21, while the balance will be awarded in the next one-two years. Currently, projects spanning about 11,000 km are under implementation, construction work on which is in progress. Meanwhile, the authority is planning to complete about 4,000 km of roads under the programme during 2020-21.
During the ongoing financial year, NHAI has awarded 40 projects spanning a cumulative length of 1,330 km, till September 2020. The projects awarded so far in the April-September period of 2020-21 are 1.6 times higher than the 828 km awarded in the first half of 2019-20 and 3.5 times more than the 373 km awarded in the first half of 2018-19. For the awarded projects, NHAI has already completed 80-90 per cent of the land acquisition, initiated utility shifting and obtained the required clearances from the relevant forest and environment authorities. The capital cost of the projects awarded in 2020-21 stands at Rs 472.89 billion, which includes the cost of civil work, land acquisition and other pre-construction activities.
Key issues and the way forward
Land acquisition has been a key issue impacting timely implementation of road projects in the country. In order to address the issue, NHAI has decided to award projects only after completing 90 per cent of the land acquisition. Although the slow-award strategy has led to delays in meeting targets set under the Bharatmala Pariyojana, NHAI is confident that it will be able to complete the programme by 2024-25, against the initial completion target of 2022.
In order to accelerate the pace of construction, numerous initiatives have been taken by the authority to revive stalled projects and expedite the completion of new projects. Apart from ensuring acquisition of a major portion of the land prior to project award, NHAI has also been facilitating timely disposal of cases related to change in project scope. In order to address issues pertaining to disputes, the authority has set up an efficient mechanism for resolving them through conciliation. Besides, it is also planning to set up a dispute resolution board with a focus on resolving disputes before they go into litigation. As far as funding constraints are concerned, NHAI is confident of addressing them through toll revenues. Not only this, the authority is also looking to generate additional funds through innovative options such as the creation of an infrastructure investment trust and asset securitisation through special purpose vehicles.
The way forward lies in adopting efficient solutions to address the land acquisition issues that still persist. Some of the steps that can be taken in this direction include collecting the requisite data in advance, using hybrid technologies for alignment fixation, ensuring better coordination with the Competent Authority for Land Acquisition, speeding up of publication of notifications through the Bhoomi Rashi portal, expediting award declaration, along with reducing litigation to a minimum and resolving arbitration cases speedily. Apart from this, more needs to be done to fast-track dispute resolution.