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The Indian road sector continues to face multiple challenges.
From 3 km per day to 30 km per day from 2016 looks to be a tall order for the road construction in the country. While the current numbers still present a slow pace of development, the government is hopeful to make amends soon. Planning Minister Rao Inderjit Singh in a written reply recently informed the Rajya Sabha that during the current fiscal till October, 1,984 km (31 per cent of target) of roads were constructed against the target of 6,300 km for 2014-15. The government had set a target to award contracts for constructing of 8,500 km of roads. It awarded contracts for 3,419 km (40 per cent of target) till October this fiscal.
As many as 295 infrastructure sector projects worth Rs 150 crore or more are delayed with total cost overrun of Rs 1,01,436 crore, Parliament was informed. The road sector accounted for the maximum number of 92 delayed projects with total cost overrun of Rs 1,975 crore. ´Challenges are manyùoverall economic downturn, lack of equity in the market, difficulty in arranging debt, highly-leveraged balance sheets for highway developers and land acquisition, approval and clearance- related issues and awarding projects without acquiring even 10 per cent of land, which resulted in delays and cost overruns,´ says M Murali, Director General, NHBF.
The government is also keen to get capital from abroad as countries like Japan, China and Malaysia have expressed interest in Indian road sector projects. According to government data, some of the foreign investors that have entered into road and highway construction are Isolux Corsßn, Vinci, Lighteon of Australia and a few Russian, Chinese, and Malaysian companies. Isolux Corsßn has entered into a joint venture with the Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Fund (MSI), to jointly invest $400 million to develop new road infrastructure projects. Acording to MoRTH, the foreign players are constantly working on viability and will take the plunge after their viability studies are complete.
While construction of roads is a major aspect being looked into, road safety is also an area of concern being given a lot importance. Almost 5 lakh road accidents happen in India annually with over 1.5 lakh deaths. The Road Transport and Safety Bill (2014) is likely to be presented in the Winter Session of Parliament;it is likely to bring down road accidents by 50 per cent in the next two years by bringing road safety into the mainstream.
ôWhile the Bill is a much-needed attempt to look at road safety, my concern is about the presence of an implementation policy in a time-bound manner that seems to be lacking in the current document,´ says Dr S Gangopadhyay, Director, Central Road Research Institute. So, while the policy document has been put together, its implementation will need to be relooked for an effective road safety mechanism.
Current Year Targets 8,500 km of National Highways
The Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Pon. Radhakrishnan has informed the Lok Sabha that during the current year national highways of 8,500 km in length are targeted to be undertaken under various schemes of the Ministry. The scheme-wise targets are: National Highway Development Project (NHDP, 6,500 km), National Highways Interconnectivity Improvement Programme (NHIIP, 500 km), Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in North-East (SARDP-NE, 1,000 km) and Left Wing Extremism (LWE, 500 km). The length of the national highways constructed/proposed to be constructed and the funds allocated/sanctioned for the same during the last three years and the current year are as below: