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National highway projects were unimpeded by the outbreak of covid-19 and road contracts were awarded through the course of the pandemic, Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari said on Friday. This, according to him, has helped ease the financial difficulties of developers and contractors by ensuring that work continued smoothly.

Addressing a virtual session during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Gadkari said the Modi administration will spend significantly on infrastructure to help the economy recover from the impact of the pandemic.

“After covid, we need to spend more on infrastructure. We are accelerating the process and awarding more roads so it will give a boost to the economy," Gadkari said.

“We are fast-tracking construction across India and took major decisions to ease the financial situation of developers. We have announced a large financial relief package and released 8,000 crore to meet the working capital requirements of contractors. Existing developers have also been compensated for losses incurred in toll revenue due to lower traffic.

“We have also fast-tracked cases under the new dispute resolution mechanism and settled claims of 16,000 crore to address immediate financial stress," he said, adding, “there is no impact of covid on NHAI’s (National Highways Authority of India’s) projects."

The NHAI awarded 1,330km of highways in the fiscal first half, which was 1.6 times of total awards in FY20 and 3.5 times FY19 levels. NHAI, the nodal authority for building highways across the country, has set a target of awarding 4,500km of projects during FY21.

“We are working for the nation, these projects are ornaments to the nation, and we must complete projects within the scheduled time," he said.

Defending the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, that he championed, Gadkari said there has been a 20% decrease in road accidents and deaths since it was introduced and that he expected traffic deaths to halve from current figures in five years. The Act has increased fines manifold for breaking traffic rules such as driving without licence and insurance, riding two-wheelers without wearing helmets or four-wheelers without seat belts, and carrying more passengers than a vehicle’s capacity.

Gadkari, who attended the summit from his home constituency of Nagpur, declined to comment on politics in Maharashtra, where the Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in last year’s assembly elections. “The situation in Maharashtra is not good, whether it is covid or the economy," Gadkari said. “(But) I’m not part of the political unit; I am focused on developing infrastructure…."

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