New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government failed to finish any of the highway projects it had started in 2004 that had been targeted for completion by October 2008.
According to an internal report of the National Highways Authority of India, or NHAI, prepared after the deadline expired in October, the highways regulator could not complete any of the 47 projects in the second phase of the North-South-East-West, or NSEW, corridor. The report was reviewed by Mint.
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The NSEW corridor is part of the government’s flagship National Highway Development Programme, or NHDP, which envisages four-laning of some 32,939 highways across the country. It comprises a clutch of projects segregated into various phases that began with the Golden Quadrilateral project started by the previous National Democratic Alliance government in 1998.
Highways are among key sectors the UPA government has identified for development to soak in $60 billion (Rs2.9 trillion) of investment over the next five years. The government estimates that India should invest some $500 billion in its infrastructure, including roads, ports and airports, by 2012.
Contractors had not completed even half the work on 23 of the 47 projects that had been due for completion by October under the second phase of the NSEW corridor, the report said. Eighty-three other projects on which work was started in May 2004 and which are scheduled for completion by 2010 are also behind schedule, the report added.
“NHAI has been allowing contractors to do as they wished in the past four years. There is no supervision and the authority does not seem to be inclined to make these errant contractors accountable,” said an NHAI official who did not want to be identified.
An official with the road transport ministry, however, said NHAI had sent show-cause notices to a dozen “non-performing” contractors who were yet to complete even 50% of the work despite the deadline having expired.
“Land acquisition and escalation of input costs are two problems continuing to delay projects. Some states are simply not cooperating,” said the officer on condition of anonymity.
Minister for highways and road transport T.R. Baalu and NHAI chairman Brijeshwar Singh were unavailable for comment.
“Every sanctioned highway project that is not completed also reduces employment opportunities for people. When there is construction activity through the year, more people will find work,” said Union labour secretary Sudha Pillai.
According to M. Murali, director general of trade body National Highway Builders Federation, “in 70% of the cases, land acquisition is the problem. In a 100km stretch, sometimes, work gets delayed because of 5km”.
“Our (contractors’) aim is to complete (work) as soon as possible and derive revenue from it. Instead of only holding the contractors responsible, the government has to take a proactive role on how to sort it (problems with certain projects) out,” he said.
The worst-hit project is a 15km two-lane stretch of road between Maibang and Lumding in Assam that has fallen victim to extortion threats from local groups. Road work on the project was supposed to have been completed by October. But only 1.12% of the project is complete, more than two years after work started.
According to an official familiar with the project, an executive engineer working on it was killed earlier this year after the firm did not respond to such extortion threats.
“There are groups that are demanding funds. If you don’t pay them, they make threats... also if you pay one, another will come and ask for money,” said the official, who didn’t want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.