New Delhi: Desperate to get the roads programme off the ground in Bihar and Jharkhand, where the private sector is declining all offers—including on lucrative stretches—in view of the challenge from Leftist extremist groups, the Centre is offering investors guaranteed payments instead of recovering their investment by collecting toll revenues.
A senior official of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the regulator for highways, who did not wish to be identified, said, “The reason for this (investor disinterest) is partly law and order situation in these states, and Naxalism.”
As a result, NHAI has not been able to award a single build-operate-transfer (BOT) highway project through tolling in these states in the last two years. In such highway projects, the company awarded the contract for constructing a stretch of highway collects toll from those using the highway.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that Naxalites, Leftist extremists, posed the single biggest internal security challenge to the country. As many as 13 out of 28 states in the country are classified as Naxalite-affected.
To woo investors towards these highway stretches, NHAI is now planning to recast these BOT projects on an annuity basis, wherein contractors who are awarded projects would be paid a guaranteed amount in instalments.
The authority had carved out around 11 highway sections in Bihar for awarding under the BOT mode in 2006 under phase III of the National Highway Development Programme.
NHAI first put up its most lucrative stretch, Patna–Muzaffarpur, for bidding in early 2006, but it received no response. “We then tried putting up another stretch for bidding as well, but even then the companies did not show any interest,” said the NHAI official.
The authority has faced a similar problem in Jharkhand, where it did not receive any bids for a couple of tolled road projects.
The lack of interest in tolling projects in Bihar and Jharkhand is happening at a time when NHAI has made it a policy to gravitate towards BOT projects in order to reduce the government’s investment in the highway sector.
Another official in NHAI, who also did not wish to be identified, confirmed that the highways regulator now planned to redraft the proposal for these projects under annuity terms.
Members of Parliament from the two states said concerns over viability of the projects apart, private players were hesitant to take up contracts in these areas because they feared for the security of their staff.
Bhubaneswar Prasad Mehta, a Lok Sabha member of the Communist Party of India from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, said even as some tenders were floated last year, there was little response from the private agencies. “Infrastructure development cannot happen in a vacuum,” he said. “Why should anyone risk his life in an area where there is no rule of law and little security? We are planning to raise this issue yet again in our party’s three-day state conference in Ranchi, which begins on 15 March.”
However, Nikhil Kumar, a former special secretary for internal security in the Union ministry of home affairs, and a Lok Sabha member of the Congress party from Aurangabad in Bihar, said the situation was somewhat better in his constituency.
“I can say for my constituency that though the quality of work remains a matter of concern, wherever we have managed to provide sufficient security to the contractors, with the help of the state government, there has been some progress,” said Kumar. “If the political representatives from these two states, and other areas affected by Naxalism keep pursuing the matter with the state governments and the private executing agencies, we can get the work done. In my constituency alone, about 25 link roads will be constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister’s Village Road Programme) and work is set to begin. Earlier, between 2004 and 2007, seven other roads were completed in my constituency,” he added.
Ram Deo Bhandary, a Rajya Sabha member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal from Bihar, said it was quite clear that even a few high-profile incidents of violent crime could deter developmental activities.
“There haven’t been too many incidents of late, but, of course, law and order remains an area of concern. If contractors are not coming forward to take up work, it is quite clear that the state has not been able to instil confidence in them,” Bhandary said.