Making Headway: Performance review of the Bharatmala project

The Bharatmala project has been desig­ned as a comprehensive plan for corridor-based growth throughout the roads 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 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. Bha­ratmala also focuses on the construction of greenfield alignments and multimodal logistics parks (MMLPs). 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. Completion of the remaining wo­rk of the Na­tio­nal Highways Development Pro­ject also comes under the purview of Bharatmala.

Progress under the Bharatmala project

Under the Bharatmala project, around 65,000 kms of national highways (NHs) are to be constructed in two phases. When it was initially approved, the total cost of the project was estimated to be Rs 5.35 trillion and it was expected to be completed by 2021-22. However, the cost has now escalated to about Rs 10.63 trillion, owing to land acquisition issu­es, spiralling prices of raw materials, labour cost and the multiple waves of the coronavirus pandemic. The programme’s completion target has thus been extended to 2027.

BharatmalaPariyojana Phase I was appro­v­ed for a length of 34,800 km. As of July 2022, projects comprising a length of 22,302 km am­ounting to a cost of Rs 6.89 trillion have been awarded, and 9,548 km of projects have been completed. Overall, an expenditure of about Rs 2.29 trillion has been incurred. Some of the re­cently completed projects are the Delhi-Vado­dara eight-lane expressway project (Package IV), the Bellary-Byrapura four-laning road project (Package I) and the Khairatunda-Barwa Adda section of NH-2, from km 360.3 to km 400.13 (Package II). Key awarded projects include the Solapur-Kurnool-Chennai six-lane green­field highway project (Package I), the Ka­ll­a­kal-Bowenpally six-lane road project (Pa­c­k­age I), and the Banbasa integrated checkpost four-lane road connectivity project. As part of BharatmalaPariyojana, 26 gr­e­en­field corridors will be developed. Detailed project reports (DPRs) for over 7,000 km of greenfield expressways and access-controlled corridors have already been invited, with plans to award over 1,000 km of projects in fiscal year 2023.

MMLPs

In May 2022, the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways modified the model concessio­naire agreement for the MMLPs to be developed under Bharatmala. The concession period for MMLPs has been increased to 45 years from 30 years. Under Bharatmala Phase I, ar­ou­nd 35 MMLPs will be set up at a total investment of Rs 460 billion. Of these 16 have been prioritised for development.

National Highways Logistics Management Li­mited, the Inland Waterways Authority of In­dia and Rail Vikas Nigam Limited signed a tri­pa­rtite agreement for the development of an MMLP, in August 2022. This step was taken in order to consolidate freight centrally and re­duce logistics spending from 14 per cent of the gross domestic product to less than 10 per cent, in accordance with international standa­r­ds. The MMLP will combine numerous mo­des of freight transportation, including inland waterways, railways and highways, using a hub-and-spoke design.

The Jogighopa MMLP is likely to start functioning after completion of construction work at the site by December 2022. DPRs-cum-feasibility assess­me­nts are under way for projects in Hyderabad, Co­im­batore, Pune, Indore and Sil­char, while the wo­rk of pre-feasibility assessment of the remai­ning locations has already been awarded. Un­der Phase II, MMLPs will be set up in Udaipur (Tripu­ra), Tuticorin (Tamil Na­du), Jodhpur (Raj­as­than), Gorakhpur (Uttar Pra­desh), Siliguri (West Ben­gal), Ranchi (Jhar­kha­nd), Haridwar (Utt­a­rakh­and), Bikaner (Rajas­than), Dighi (Ma­harashtra), Kanpur (Uttar Prade­sh) and Bidkin (Ma­hara­shtra).

The way forward

Upon completion, the Bharatmala project is expected to optimise the efficiency of traffic movement on roads through the adoption of a coherent corridor approach. This will boost the economy of the nation, bridging the infrastructure gap, connectivity and reach to make movement more structured, as well as generate employment. However, the success of the Bharatmala project will depend on the availability of clearances, the quality of work and timely execution. Going forward, there is a need to maintain and further enhance the momentum of award and construction activity.