The ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) are in the midst of a tussle after the latter floated a proposal in early July seeking powers to independently modify the model concession agreement (MCA) for highway projects.
While ministry officials feel that making changes to the MCA is a policy matter and the prerogative of the government, NHAI officials claim that the ministry has still not given them a definite answer.
“No authority below the government can take policy decisions. I have been holding meetings with an inter-ministerial committee to review the agreement and we are first trying to segregate those points on which we have some broad consensus. In cases where the committee is unable to reach a consensus, the Cabinet Secretary will be the final deciding authority,” said Vijay Chhibber, secretary, MoRTH.
The MCA is a contract between NHAI and the concessionaire setting the terms of execution of the project. It was originally prepared by the erstwhile Planning Commission. The need to modify the document was felt in order to expedite dispute resolution and rescue the numerous projects that were delayed.
Late in August, the Union Cabinet empowered MoRTH to amend the MCA and to decide the mode of delivery of projects. Chhibber said that a little under half of the MCA still remained to be reviewed. “Reviewing the MCA is not our topmost priority right now. The market’s lacklustre response to the PPP projects is not all due to the MCA document,” he said.
NHAI chairman RP Singh said that modifications need to be made quickly and that there is a view in government on empowering the NHAI board.
“The ministry has neither said a yes nor a no. The logic behind our proposal was that NHAI board has representatives from all the concerned ministries, which makes it competent enough, and that the process of modification and renegotiations will speed up,” Singh said.