Building a resilient future: India's Highways

Building a resilient future: India's Highways

The government’s effort to revive the highway sector will help the transporters and generate employment opportunities.

As the government’s ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojana is trying to optimise efficiency of freight movement across India by bridging critical infrastructure gap, in an interview, P. C. Grover, Director General, National Highway Builders Federation discusses the issues plaguing highway projects and how the buyback policy can ensure smooth implementation of the project.

The government has approved `6.92 lakh-crore Bharatmala project for development of highways with a completion deadline of 2022. How do you assess the government’s progress in meeting this target?
Bharatmala is an ambitious project that requires a huge amount of investment to achieve the targets of highways all over the country. Several roads are already built for which contracts have been awarded. However, there can be situations which require existing roads to be widened or the road which is part of the State Highway to be merged with National Highway, or the lanes being added to existing ones. Such changes can result into legal complications as contracts are awarded with certain terms and conditions and drastic amendments may have inherent problems. It affects the traffic density and alternate routes emerge along with the change in locations of toll plazas impacting the toll rights and revenue of the concessionaires. Any change will require prior consent of concessioner and some form of compensation. These are acute problems affecting the Bharatmala project.
Our federation has submitted a representation on the partial buyback of projects for the purpose of augmentation of Bharatmala project. The issue has been referred to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for case-to-case approval but the policy as such hasn’t been finalised yet. 

NHAI has asked for more allocation of funds from the finance ministry. What are other constraints for developers hindering implementation of projects?
NHAI needs extra funds because the land compensation prices have gone up and the major constraint for developers remain land. It has always been difficult to acquire land from occupants who are unwilling to part land for public interest.  There are different compensation mechanisms to be followed for land acquisitions. The rate of land acquisition has multiplied and arbitration issues arising in the Courts have also added to the problems. Most projects have a clear condition that 90 per cent of land acquisition is a must before actual award of a project and this often results in delay. On one hand the Concessionaire is expected to arrange his own finances for augmenting resources, but then there are times when the authority is unable to arrange the land for the project. It is one of the major reasons for delay in projects. 

It’s been two years since FASTag system has been rolled out for collection of toll electronically on national highways. How did it impact the sector?
The trucking community is a powerful one, which often tries to take advantage of its position as the government cannot afford agitation. The seamless movements in the highway get disrupted if any one vehicle doesn’t obey regulations. It can also pose law and order problems. NHAI has proposed to bear the initial cost of the infrastructure required to initiate FASTag for truckers in order to minimise problems that arise at the tolls.