The sluggish pace at which critical highway construction is progressing in the country has come under the spotlight, with a new report suggesting that little over half the planned length of national highways got constructed in the last nine months.
The report, which was prepared by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, says that there was a lag of 42.7% between the target set for widening and strengthening of highways in the country and the amount of works that were completed between April 2006 and January 2007. In the year-before period, that shortfall was 31.8%.
As per a target set by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), about 750km of widening and strengthening of highways should have been completed.
However, only 428km of such roads have been finished. The report notes that NHAI was supposed to spend about Rs8,000 crore during the period, but could manage to allocate only around Rs6,000 crore for the projects.
It also says that the authority has been the worst performer when compared with other infrastructure deliverers, such as railways and ports. However, senior officials in the road transport and highways department say that it is unfair to compare highway construction with other sectors.
“There are so many problems that have to be overcome to construct highways. We need the support of the state governments, which does not come through in the case of many projects, and the procedural requirements also take time,” says a senior official with the department, who didn’t want to be named.
“We are not bothered about these statistics. All you need to do is to drive through the new highways to understand the amount of work that we have put in,” he insists.
Industry experts say that private players face significant hurdles in road projects, including land acquisition and handover issues as well as shifting of existing roadblocks, such as utilities infrastructure.