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NEW DELHI : National highway construction lost momentum in 2021-22, falling short of  ambitious targets set by the Centre. Considering that the sector is central to India’s grand infrastructure plans, construction of national highways is set to pick up pace from this month. The government is increasing focus on access-controlled six- and eight-lane highways and expressways, and is confident of meeting the target for this financial year. In an interview, ministry of road transport and highways secretary Giridhar Aramane talked about the infrastructure roadmap, asset monetization, car safety ratings and EV infrastructure plans. Edited Excerpts:

 

An ambitious target of 50 km per day has been set for this year again. But  1,307 km of national highways have been built in the first two months of FY23...

Taking up highway construction to 50 km a day is an aspirational goal, but the actual target for FY23 is 12,000 km. The number may seem less compared to the aspirational target, but the difference is that the 12,000 km we are going to build will be dominated by complex projects involving six-lane, eight-lane and access-controlled highways. Greenfield expressways and highways take a lot of time to build. In terms of lane-kilometres, we will be building far higher than the 12,000-km target. As a matter of practice, we only report physical kilometers. Efforts and resources required to build new roads are much higher. So, the 12,000-km target is reasonable. 

I agree that in the first two months of FY23, construction work was slow, but we will still complete over 2,000 km of roads by the end of June, and progress should pick up from July.

Even in the covid year (2020-21), over 13,000 km of roads were built. Why can’t we set higher targets?

The year 2020-21 was exceptional. The first wave of covid resulted in a lot of time for contractors to organize their work. Because of the gap available, they could organize themselves quite well and quickly completed the work. Not having traffic on the roads was also a big factor in getting the work done. However, those kinds of targets are difficult to achieve every year because the new roads will require land acquisition, financial closure of contractors, various clearances, etc. But after the implementation of Gati Shakti, I hope several clearance-related issues will be resolved and construction will pick up pace.

Gati Shakti aims to speed up infrastructure development by bringing various components of projects under a single platform. Has that started happening?

Gati Shakti plan starts from the conceptual stage, before a project is conceptualized and designed, and then the entire project takes off. So, at the planning stage itself, it is ensured that the number of clearances required is minimized. The number of railway lines to be crossed, the number of canals to be bypassed, the area of forest land to be acquired and cleared, all these have to be optimized so that the clearances will be minimized. Then, we have to  obtain the clearances. The portal established by Bhaskaracharya National Institute for Space Applications and Geo-informatics (BISAG-N) under Gati Shakti has a provision to get clearances. The Gujarat government has already put data on the portal where central government and state governments could take clearances on the Gati Shakti platform. We have given Gati Shakti portal credentials to all our project directors, some 300-400 people. So, every time there is a need for clearances for any project, they can use the portal.

As part of the asset monetization plan, there was a proposal to set up a public InvIT, particularly NHAI InvIT. Why has it not happened?

If we have to offer it to the public, it’s a long procedure. We have requested Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India) to relax the process. Making InvIT public involves bringing in more investors. As this will affect the interest and valuations of existing investors, Sebi is concerned about investor protection. So, before bringing in future investors, we may have to have detailed discussions and reach an agreement with existing investors also. The procedure involved is quite complex. We are requesting that this be relaxed. We will take up the matter again in due course.

 

 

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