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NEW DELHI : The momentum gained in building highways over the past few years has hit a roadblock with the pace of construction falling by more than 20% in 2021-22 over the previous year.

Only 10,457 km of national highways were laid in FY22 as compared with 13,327 km in 2020-21, according to data from the ministry of road transport and highways.

Officials said disruptions from the pandemic and an unusually long rainy season prevented the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from completing the targeted 12,000 km last year. However, its award of highways to be constructed in FY23 is at an all-time high.

“A mix of covid and a long rainy season, particularly towards the end of the year in November and December, slowed highway construction," said road transport and highways secretary Giridhar Aramane.

“Also, as most roads in the country use bitumen for construction, unless the surface is completely dry, construction cannot restart."

Aramane said a lot of construction in FY22 was complex work involving four or six lane roads. “We would have constructed almost 80% more roads last year if length were measured in terms of separate lanes and not merely the length of highways," he said.

While the construction of highways slowed last year, the award figure in FY22 stood at a high 12,731 km. The award in the previous year was 10,964 km. Aramane said that with the award of projects, the 12,000 km construction target for FY23 should be achieved without difficulty.

Mint had earlier reported that highway construction in 2021-22 was expected to end at 11,000 km, a full 1,000 km short of the revised target.

Interestingly, the ministry of road transport and highways had originally set a target of 14,600 km of highways in 2021-22, or 40 km of construction per day, up from the 13,327 km target for the previous year.

As per government data, highways construction fell to its lowest in four years to 21.3 km per day during April-November in FY22 (it picked up pace in March when more than 2,400 km of highways were constructed) compared with an average of 25.8 km/day in the same period in FY21. It was 24.8 km/day in FY20 and 24 km/day in FY19, both pre-pandemic years when construction was picking up pace.

The slower pace of highway development in FY22 has been unexpected considering that it is one segment that had previously managed to deliver the goods despite many disruptions. In a normal year, construction picks up pace after the monsoon but the extended monsoon followed by the third wave of covid-19 delayed awards and construction.

Despite the setback, the budget for 2022-23 has set an ambitious target of building 25,000 km of highways. Officials have clarified that though 25,000 km of stretches would be identified for award during the year, actual construction would be staggered over a two-year period.

Senior officials have clarified that in FY23 construction of about 12,000 km of national highways may be taken up, which is close to 33 km per day. The aim of the government is to take up daily construction to 50 km per day but officials indicated that for this to happen, at least a two-year wait would be needed.

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