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NEW DELHI : Highway construction has hit a speed bump with the pace of building falling by 13.2% in April-August compared with the same period a year ago.

Construction in the first five months of FY23 stood at 2,912 km, far lower than the 3,355 km built even during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in 2021, when disruption in economic activities was reported from across India, showed data released by the ministry of road transport and highways.

The slowdown in road construction could very well result in the government missing its ambitious target of 12,000 km for FY23, despite efforts by the road construction and highways minister Nitin Gadkari to scale it even further to 50 km a day, or over 18,000 km.

While the Centre has so far not given any reason for the decline, ministry officials said the effects of the pandemic and an unusually long monsoon may have prevented the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from executing projects at a faster pace.

“While the pace of road construction may have been slow in the first half of the year, post monsoon, construction activity will pick up. Work on several NHAI-awarded projects will begin, taking us closer to the target of 12,000 km of construction for this fiscal year," said an official on the condition of anonymity.

Queries emailed to the ministry remained unanswered at press time.

According to government data, around 419 km, or just 13 km per day of highways, were built in August this year, compared to 428 km in the year earlier. In fact, construction was even slower than the July numbers of 527 km.

Besides the sluggish pace of construction, only 2,706 km of roads were awarded in April-August compared to 3,261 km in the same period a year ago.

According to data, 2021-22 was one of the worst years in terms of highway construction with a fall of over 20% from FY21, due to the twin blow of the pandemic and a long rainy season.

This prevented the NHAI from completing the 12,000 km of highways and ending with just 10,457 km.

Construction activity was expected to be normal in FY23 as covid-led disruptions have been limited, while infrastructure activities picked up pace.

However, continued pressure on the economy from rising inflation checked the growth momentum, while investment activity remained flat. This has also impacted the pace of road construction, said officials.

A ministry official said that the complex nature of projects often gives an impression that actual construction has slowed down, but that may not necessarily be the case.

“The construction of six-lane highways and expressways actually increases actual lane construction, but that is not reflected in overall numbers," he added.

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