Building roads in the North-East, as many infrastructure firms are discovering, is literally an uphill task. S S Raju shares experiences about local issues and the suggestions for resolving them.
Assam was in turmoil in November 2005 when Punj Lloyd took on its first highway project named AS16 from Lanka to Daboka (23.8 km) including the Daboka Bypass in Silchar AS1, to be completed in 36 months. However, the road, certified as completed only in June this year, took much longer.
The project came with more than its share of baggage. Land acquisition, which is the state's resÂponsibility, over six months of incessant rains in a year, poor accessibility and logistical support, political unrest and frequent strikes were big problems that confronted us, and went on to seriously affect our timelines. Delays became inevitable as we grappled with multiple issues. The cost was upgraded from Rs 198 corore to Rs 208 crore and we incurred losses towards idling resources, price escalation of cement and steel.
To meet these costs, we made claims to the clients which they considered. On some occasions, we had to approach the Dispute Resolution Board to resolve these issues. With six projects in hand, we have the same issues today and having completed more than four years, we incur the same losses too.
The road design-a flexible road to replace the old one and new carriage with rigid, concrete pavements-was developed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) specially for Assam. Although the process of road-laying by itself was not complicated, using right equipment to produce the concrete and lay the road to the perfect profile is very important.
We imported a Virgin concrete batching plant capable of producing upto 120 cu m of concrete per hour and a concrete paver finisher which lays the complete width of the road.
In National Highways in the North East, NHAI acquires the land, but even after notifications are made and processes complete, issues (such as frequent statewide strikes) emerge and locals stop work. Then the matter is routed through the state government, where there is further delay. Granting special status may go a long way in resolving problems of delays and a longer gestation period.
NHAI must ensure the availability of raw materials such as bitumen, cement and steel. We depend on the suppliers, and have no special quotas for projects, so they deliver as and when they have the material, and even sell surplus material elsewhere at a higher price. Giving 'national importance' status to the North East and alloÂcating quotas will ensure regular supply and improve the rate of progress, which may calm political tensions.
Project Description: Widening & Strengthening of existing Single Lane to 4-Lane of Lanka – Daboka section of NH-54 and Daboka Bypass in Assam Section (Rigid Pavement)
Issues causing delay:
1. Delay in handing over of land – There was a huge delay in handing over land and removal of encumbrances which led to delay in project execution. Further, the land was handed over in discontinuous stretches which made it difficult to work.
2. Heavy rainfall affecting progress – Assam experiences heavy rainfall from June – September approximately. During this period, no road work can be carried out. However, Plant & Equipment and manpower remains mobilised throughout and our fixed costs continue to be incurred.
3. Law & Order situation – Deteriorating law & order is a major issue in Assam & frequent strikes/bandhs have further led to delay in work progress.
4. Inaccessibility of site – It is difficult to ensure regular availability of essential materials such as steel, cement, bitumen, aggregate etc., as transporting material is a major constraint due to the inhospitable and inaccessible terrain.
The author is President and CEO-Infrastructure, Punj Lloyd.