Monday, Jan 30, 2023

Highways and others: How India classifies roads, reclassifies them

SC order banning sale, consumption of liquor near national and state highways has seen attempts by states to reclassify highways as local roads. What qualifies as a ‘highway’ anyway?

liquor ban, highway liquor ban, liquor shop restriction, highways, highway liquor, highway rules, highways in india, indian express Hotels on the Aerocity stretch near the NH-8 will also be affected by the order. Manoj Kumar

How are roads classified in India?

As World War II saw a rapid increase in the volume of road traffic in India, the government of the Raj convened a conference of engineers in Nagpur in 1943 to discuss the condition of roads, and the way forward. The conference produced the Nagpur Plan, which divided roads into 4 main categories: National Highways, State Highways, District Roads and Village roads. Later, Expressways were added as an additional category.

What makes a road a State or a National Highway?

Under the Nagpur Plan Classification, National Highways connect all major ports, state capitals, large industrial and tourist centres, and foreign highways. Roads that are required for strategic movement, those that reduce the travel time substantially, and those that open up backward areas and help economic growth, are also classified as National Highways. Earlier in 1927, a road development committee under M R Jayakar had recommended that National Highways should be the frame on which the country’s road connectivity should rely. State Highways, according to the Nagpur Plan, are the arterial roads of a state that connect to National Highways, district headquarters and important cities. These are also linked to district roads. Major District Roads (MDRs) are roads that connect areas of production, main markets and the State and National Highways crossing the state. Village Roads connect villages to each other or to the nearest District Roads.

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Who decides the technical requirements for different classes of roads?

The Indian Roads Congress, a semi-official body that was set up by the government in 1934 on the basis of the Jayakar Committee’s recommendations, and registered as a society in 1937, decides the minimum requirements for roads, keeping in mind geography, speed, volume of traffic and safety. The IRC is the apex body of road engineers in the country and regularly updates the technical requirements — such as width, sight distance and other related parameters — for highways and other roads.

What is the length of India’s road network, and of National, State Highways?


According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, at the end of 2015-16, India had a total 1,00,475 kilometres of National Highways and Expressways. State Highways were 1,48,256 km, and other roads, 49,83,589 km. National Highways constitute approximately 2% of the road network.

And what is the volume of traffic on National Highways?

According to the National Highways Authority of India, roads carry about 65% of India’s freight traffic and 80% of its passenger traffic. And National Highways carry 40% of the country’s total road traffic.

How are National Highways numbered?


Until 2010, National Highways continued to be numbered the way they were numbered in the National Highways Act of 1956, which listed each National Highway. In 2010, the government issued a notification to rationalise the numbering system, arguing that the “existing number of National Highway does not give any indication of its location and direction”. In the new system, all east-west highways have odd numbers, and all north-south highways have even numbers. On odd-numbered highways, the number increases from north to south. So a highway from Jodhpur to Kanpur will have a smaller number than a highway from Mumbai to Chennai. For even-numbered highways, the numbers increase from east to west. A highway from Kolkata to Chennai will have a smaller number than a highway from Delhi to Mumbai.

Who is responsible for the upkeep of National and State Highways?

Under the National Highways Act, 1956, National Highways became the responsibility of the central government. The National Highways Authority Act, 1988 led to the creation of NHAI to look after National Highways.

The Public Works Departments of states are mandated to look after State Highways.

In Union Territories, the UT government is responsible for State Highways. For example, in 2005, the Chandigarh Administration declared that all its major arterial roads were State Highways. This was done as the municipal bodies were suffering from a paucity of funds, and this way the roads could be maintained by the Administration directly. But just before the Supreme Court reiterated that no liquor can be sold within 500 metres of any State or National Highway, Chandigarh decided to re-classify all its State Highways as district roads. UT Home Secretary Anurag Aggarwal was quoted as saying that all Chandigarh sectors are 1.2 km long and 800 m wide, and ensconced between State Highways; if not for the notification, the Supreme Court order would have rendered the entire city dry. But this was challenged in the Punjab and Haryana High Court by Harman Siddhu, the same petitioner on whose PIL the Supreme Court had passed the order banning sale of liquor along the highways. Though the High Court allowed the notification, the case is now pending in the Supreme Court, and is listed for later this month.


Who is responsible for the upkeep of a State or a National Highway that passes through a city?

Irrespective of whether a National Highway passes through a city or not, it is the central government’s job to take care of, and manage it, unless it has specifically declared through a gazette notification that the management has been handed over to another body for a particular stretch. Similarly, State Highways, even when passing through cities, are the responsibility of the state’s PWD.


But there is often confusion on the status of these highways on certain stretches. For example, parts of both the Inner and Outer Ring Roads in Delhi are notified as National and State Highways, but not for their entire lengths. So while liquor shops will have to be shut down on the parts that are mentioned in the National Highways Act, 1956, the remaining parts will be allowed to stay open.

Again, the Western Expressway Highway in Mumbai was not considered to be either a State or a National Highway according to a recent response by the Maharashtra government to an RTI query filed in February. The government said that the stretch from Dahisar Check Naka to Mahim Junction was under the PWD, and it only converted to NH8 after Dahisar in the north. But since the Supreme Court’s order, liquor shops and bars along the road have been shut even within city limits.


How does a State Highway become a National Highway and vice versa?

Section 2 of the National Highways Act, 1956, gives the central government the exclusive right to notify any road in the country as a National Highway and add it to the list of National Highways annexed to the Act. The Act also gives the central government the right to announce through the national gazette the removal of any National Highway from the list.

The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in consultation with the erstwhile Planning Commission, had come up with a set of criteria which, if met, could put a road up for consideration to become a National Highway. These criteria are largely in sync with the Nagpur Plan for a National Highway. State governments can send proposals to the central government to upgrade roads to National Highways. Every time the Union Cabinet approves an upgradation, it has to be notified through the national gazette, and the list of National Highways in the National Highways Act, 1956, has to be amended.

States cannot upgrade State Highways to National Highways or vice versa. They do, however, retain the right to tag State Highways as District Roads, as some states have done to circumvent the Supreme Court’s order. In such cases, liquor can be bought or consumed near these Highway-turned-District Roads.

First published on: 07-04-2017 at 00:47 IST
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