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Roads & Bridges | Status report: The elusion of enhanced standards

Roads & Bridges | Status report: The elusion of enhanced standards

While the extent of the highway network keeps increasing, its efficiency still remains questionable, says Monika Pal Bharti.

While National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and developers are out to change the face of Indian roads, the ground level factors are not changing. Congestion at tollgates, harassment of truck drivers by officials and local mafia, damaged roads, looting of truck drivers, fuel theft etc, continues on Indian highways due to conti­nuation of inefficient mechanisms.

In the last five years, the total road network increased by about 0.8 million km from 3.32 million km (CAGR 4.4 per cent) of
which national and state highways network increased by 5,182 km and 26,522 km respectively. In addition, during this period, NHAI alone awarded 19,568 km of projects for widening or rehabilitation on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis.

While the government efforts to increase road capacity, progress is hampered by transpa­rency issues, lack of deci­sion making at various levels, tougher interest rates, operational pres­sures (actual traffic is way below the numbers projected at the time of bidding) have meant that many projects are now finding it difficult to attain financial closure. Secondary invest­ments into the sector were expected to ease the pres­sure on the current players, but the same have not been happening to the extent desired.
In such a scenario, our larger focus should be on improving the efficiency of our road system by reducing stay time of vehicles on roads. We suggest the following steps to imp­rove road efficiency:

1. Electronic tolling: E-tolling and interopera­bility needs to be implemented at the earl­iest to reduce toll plaza waiting times.
2. Enhancing road quality: It must be made man­datory to use high quality materials (such as Geo­textiles) for construction of roads especially on high traffic stretches, as well as imple­ment strict anti-overloading mea­sures. There should be greater focus on monitoring and enforcement of minimum pavement quality maintained by conce­ssionaires or the highway departments.
3. Safety audit: It should be mandatory for roads and highways to under­go safety audits on a regular basis. Any major findings need to be immediately rec­tified. In the case of privately managed roads, there should be incentives and penal­ties associated with safety parameters.
4. Standardised procedures and documen­tation: Most check posts lack basic faci­lities, like weigh bridges. Due to this, tru­cks have to go to a nearby weigh bridge, get the vehicle weighed and show the weigh receipt to the check post official. Border check posts need modernisation. While Gujarat has taken the lead in com­puterising its check posts, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have chosen to modernise their check posts on PPP basis. More states need to undertake such initiatives. Standa­r­di­sation will ensure ‘quick verification’ and save waiting time.

These are some immediate measures re­quired to improve the efficiency of our road network. Indian roads can play a much wider role than just transit services provided they are seen from a broader eco­nomic perspective. Hence, highway develop­ment not only requi­res broader roads but also broader mindsets.

Learning: The industry needs to appreciate the significance of bidding at the right price, as aggressive bidding has a negative impact on the overall progress of the industry.

The author is Senior Vice President, Feedback Infrastructure Services.

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