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NEW DELHI : The momentum gained in building cross-country highways across India in the past few years seems to have hit a speed bump with the pace of construction falling by 15% in the first four months of this fiscal.

Construction sputtered to 2,493 kms during April to July, slower than even the 2,927 kms built during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic last year that had led to large-scale disruption in economic activity, data from the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) showed.

The continued fall in road construction activity this year comes on the back of ambitious targets set by the government, with MoRTH minister Nitin Gadkari even suggesting that highway construction would be ramped up to 50 km per day this year.

Though the official target has been kept at 12,000 km for FY23, the sluggish pace of activity in the first four months could make it difficult to even attain this goal.

While the government has not provided any reasons behind the sluggish pace of highway construction, MoRTH officials said disruptions caused by the pandemic and an unusually long rainy season prevented the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from completing the targeted 12,000 km last fiscal, and that the weak trend has continued this year as well.

“While the construction work has been slow in the first four months of FY23, still around 2,500 km of roads has been built and progress should pick up pace from post monsoon," said an official asking not to be named.

A query sent to the ministry remained unanswered till press time.

As per official data, only about 527 km of highways were built this July, lower than 643 km built in the same month last year. The July performance is even lower than April when road construction had fallen to 578 km.

Meanwhile, only 1,975 km of roads were awarded in April-July this year, as compared to 2,434 kms a year earlier.

The twin effects of covid and an extended monsoon season led to a 20% drop in highway construction in FY22.

This prevented NHAI from completing the targeted 12,000 km of highways, instead ending the year with just 10,457 km with the hope that the pace would rebound this fiscal.

Gadkari had set an even stiffer target for this fiscal. In an earlier tweet, he said the government is committed to expanding the National Highways (NHs) network with the aim of constructing 18,000 km of NHs in 2022-23 at a record speed of 50 km per day.

In a recent interview, MoRTH secretary Giridhar Aramane said building 50 km a day was an aspirational target and that they were looking to complete about 12,000 of highways this year.

“The number may seem less compared to aspirational targets but the difference is that the 12,000 km we are going to build will be dominated by complex projects involving building six lane, eight lane and access control highways," he said.

 

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