Cabinet note for Vision 2047 highway plan may be revised

Big highway construction plans on the anvil  (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Big highway construction plans on the anvil (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

Summary

  • The 20 trillion, 15-year plan envisages a network of green, safe highways, most of which are access controlled and cover the entire country. The plan may also be broken down into five-year and one-year targets

The roads ministry may rework a cabinet note for an expansive highway construction plan to present to the new government after the elections, two persons aware of the development said. The original cabinet note was submitted to the cabinet secretariat late last year, but approval did not come through before the elections got underway, the persons added.

Early approval of the Vision 2047 plan of the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) is key for construction activities to begin on new-age highways that would connect every part of the country, providing commuters access to faster expressways placed at 100-125 km from any point.

The 20-trillion plan envisages construction of more than 75,000 km of highways over the next 15 years, including 50,000 km of access-controlled highways or expressways, one of the two persons said on condition of anonymity. As of now, about 4,000 km of centrally funded access-controlled highways have been built.

Queries sent to MoRTH remained unanswered till press time.

Parts of the whole

Apart from long-term goals for MoRTH, the plan will also break down the target into five-year and one-year targets, and specify the kind of work to be done each year and the likely investments required.

The Vision 2047 plan would set specific targets for developing green highways with infrastructure that would support green mobility on Indian roads. The first such initiative is being introduced in the under-construction Delhi-Mumbai expressway project. A green highway would have EV charging points, battery swapping stations, tree lining on both sides of the highway, and shrubs in the median.

Also read Mint Primer: Why building of highways in India is slowing down

The Vision 2047 plan would also provide a roadmap for making Indian roads safer, having policy prescription for adoption of latest technology to map accident-prone points on highways and undertake rectification work. It will also include proposals for the introduction of a nationwide cashless treatment scheme to cater to road accident victims.

“The aim is to have a sustainable, efficient, safe and internationally comparable quality of road infrastructure in general, and national highways infrastructure in particular, to achieve enhanced connectivity and quick mobility to a level which accelerates socio-economic development," said an official on condition of anonymity.

Also read Govt issues new guidelines to make Indian highways safer

The new plan would also kickstart private investments in highway projects under the BoT (build, operate, transfer) model that is being revived on a large scale in FY25 after over a decade-long break.

The Bharatmala connection

Projects that are yet to be completed under Bharatmala-1 would be integrated with the Vision 2047 plan. This would allow unfinished projects under the earlier programme to be taken up afresh for completion, said the person cited earlier.

Bharatmala-1, conceived in 2017, envisaged construction of 34,800 km of highways connecting various economic centres of the country. So far, contracts for 27,384 km of roads have been awarded. The balance would now be aligned with the Vision 2047 plan along with the proposed construction of about 5,000 km under Bharatmala Phase-2.

“…the highway construction sector in India presents a robust outlook, with government committing record capex to infrastructure. This will be aided by proactive measures, including streamlined processes and simplified approvals. The sector's growth is expected to align with modern infrastructure needs, with ongoing highway upgrades and new green corridors to assist the growth of EVs (electric vehicles)," Davinder Sandhu, chairman of Primus Partners said.

A tech-based approach

The highway planning will see a marked change while putting construction targets under the Vision plan. Already , MoRTH took the data on the network of national highways and all the state highways and used it on GIS map, the PM Gatishakti map. It then superimposed the e-way bill data from GST related to the movement of freight through roads, the toll transaction data and the data from India's GDP prediction for next 25 years, used big data analytics to develop transportation model that would identify congestion every few years and suggest road requirements to ease this congestion.

Also read Highway construction has sped up, not slowed down, in election season: Officials

“The use of GIS for Indian highways will mark a paradigm shift for the sector. Firstly, it could lead to better execution of new highway construction and monitoring of the road network. Secondly, coupled with traffic-based applications, it could lead to better network planning as NHAI will have view on the exact origin and destination of traffic along with a detailed categorisation of traffic - this data can significantly improve ability of market players to forecast traffic and hence reduce revenue risk for projects. This will boost investor interest in new BOT Toll and TOT projects," said Srishti Ahuja, Investment Banking Partner (Energy Transition & Infra), EY.

India at present has a highway network of around 146,000 km. This is set to rise to around 225,000 km by 2037, saturating the highway programme. The highway building agencies such as NHAI (National Highways Authority of India), NHIDCL (National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited), and BRO (Border Roads Organisation) would then largely be entrusted with the task of operation and maintenance of highways while widening existing network.

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