Kerala road projects run into meltdown wall

While the Left-led Kerala Government had to be coaxed and convinced by the Centre to allow Build Operate Transfer toll based highway projects in the state....

Written by Anubhuti Vishnoi | New Delhi | Published: February 10, 2009 12:34 am

While the Left-led Kerala Government had to be coaxed and convinced by the Centre to allow Build Operate Transfer (BOT) toll based highway projects in the state,the long pending road upgradation exercise in the state is yet to take off.

Economic slowdown has badly struck the upgradation works for the two stretches across 100 km on NH 47 bid out in the southern state last year. The alarmed state Government that has slowly veered towards a more pro-infrastructure position,is now anxiously taking up the issue with New Delhi to find ways to draw in private players.

The National Highways Authority of India invited bids for four-laning of the Walayar-Vadakkancherry stretch and the six-laning of the Vadakancherry-Thrissur stretch along NH 47 in October 2008. Over four months and some five re-bids later,the Rs 1,300-crore projects have failed to attract even a single infrastructure company.

“The bids were first invited on October 20,2008. The deadline for submission of bid documents was November 4 and while some parties bought the bid documents,not one was submitted. The deadline has been extended several times and re-bid since then. The next date is February 19 now.

“We have taken up the issue with NHAI and the Planning Commission to ease bid conditions. But the slowdown combined with the general unease with the politico-social environment of the state is working against us,” said a top Government official from Kerala.

NHAI says recession is to blame for the poor show. “Recession has badly hit projects across the country and it is the case with this road projects as well. That coupled with the difficulty of land acquisition in Kerala may have also affected the state’s BOT projects. In fact,we recently dropped even the more stringent conditions in the bid documents allowing more bidders to pre-qualify,but still there has been no response. We will soon re-bid the projects and then move to BOT annuity and EPC mode of necessary,” R K Singh,Chief General Manager NHAI in charge of the Kerala NHAI projects,said.

The Kerala Government had put the Centre in a spot last year by refusing to sign the state support agreement required for four laning of some 664 km of national highways in the state,saying it could not permit toll collection on its highways. Several attempts later,the Ministry of Shipping,Road Transport & Highways has got the Kerala Government to accept the ‘policy issue’ involved in tolled road projects.

Since then the Left Government has been formulating a more liberal road policy and finding ways to acquire land in the rather expensive real estate market and even mulling the mega expressway project to connect its northern and southern tips. The move,however,came just ahead of the slowdown which has hit the infrastructure sector in a big way.

Apart from Kerala,NHAI is finding it difficult to get bidders for its NHDP projects. Kerala has just 33.6 km of a four laned National Highway from Ernakulam to Angamali (N-S/E-W corridor). Of the total 1523.954 km of national highways in the state,1,076 km are still single lane and 411 km are two lane,as per Kerala PWD figures. NHAI plans a Rs 5,000 crore highway upgradation exercise in the state.

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