Monday, July 22, 2024

NHAI may miss road target by a wide margin

Infrastructure development may top the government agenda, but the pace of road and highway construction is slipping badly, setting the stage for the year’s target being missed by a wide margin.

Against a target of road construction of over 12,000 km, the pace of work so far indicates the National Highway Authority of India may not even reach 10,000 km mark in FY23, way below even last year when prolonged rains and the third covid wave cut construction to just 10,400 km.

As per the ministry of road transport and highways data, till January-end only 6,803 km of highways had been built, including 1,009 km in January.

If this pace is maintained, the country may end up with around 8,500-9,000 km of roads in FY23, the lowest in the last four years, a person privy to the development said.

To reach 12,000 km now, NHAI may have to build around 85 km of roads per day, a feat never achieved and much higher than even the aspirational target of 50 km a day, the person quoted above said.

Questions sent to NHAI and ministry of road transport and highways remained unanswered till the time of going to press. But officials said the slow pace may be attributed to NHAI using a portion of the government’s budgetary allocations to cut down its debt that has shot up to over ₹3 trillion.

“The road construction this year may not be showing actual km additions as in case of several new projects a lot of work is going towards land acquisition. Also, NHAI is also focused on other infrastructure development projects connected with PM Gati Shakti mission. But, the last few months of the year is generally good for highway development and we may see big pick up in construction now,” said Arindam Guha, partner, government and public services, Deloitte India.

As per the latest data from ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH), highway construction in the country reached 7,803 km in FY23 upto January end. This is higher than 6,684 km of road constructed upto January in FY22 when the year ended with total highway construction of 10,457 km.The construction this year is even slower than the first year of pandemic that resulted in wide scale disruptions in economic activities.Though there is a slowdown in construction, a big pick up is seen in road awards in FY23 indicating that construction will also pick up pace in coming months. NHAI has awarded a total of 8,400 km of highways upto January this year against award of just 6,883 km in the same period last year. Increase in award is indicative of improving health of the sector with rising appetite for contractors to pick up projects.While the government has not provided any reason for the weak performance in highway construction this year, an official in the road transport ministry said disruptions from the Omicron wave and a prolonged monsoon prevented the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from completing the targeted 12,000km last year, and the trend seems to be continuing this year. But, MoRTH still hopes of reaching 12,000 km of target given that agencies have already been asked to push up constructions and government is flush with funds to get roads completed at accelerated pace.

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