In June-July this year, the restoration work on National Highway 44 (Assam-Tripura), following a large-scale damage due to rains that cutoff Tripura from the rest of the country, came as the first major challenge for the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), a company fully owned by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. While all national highways and strategic roads in the North-East and states that share international boundaries were earlier developed and maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), all road work in such states excluding the defence-related road projects has now been entrusted upon NHIDCL in a bid to improve connectivity by roping in private sector consultants and contractors.
Set up in July 2014, the company currently has 127 projects spread across thirteen states and Union territories. These projects are estimated to be built at a total cost of over Rs 1 lakh crore and are at different stages of execution. Sanjay Jaju, director administration and finance at NHIDCL informed that in the first two years the company has awarded 30 road projects (aggregating to a length of around 1,000 km) worth Rs 15,000 crore in the four states — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura — to contractors. He said that NHIDCL has already spent around Rs 5,000 crore on these 30 projects for land acquisition, consultancy etc.
Other than road projects, the company also has the task cut out for two big tunnel projects in Jammu & Kashmir: Zojila tunnel (a 14 km long project, estimated to cost Rs 9,090 crore) and Z-Morh tunnel (6.5 km project estimated to cost Rs 2,680 crore). Both the projects are to be executed on build–operate–transfer (BOT) annuity model. “The idea for setting the company was to look at strategic and border infrastructure in order to build better connectivity within north east and other states. It is not just the construction of roads in border and hilly areas but this company has to also specialise in building tunnels,” said Jaju.
When Tripura was cut off from rest of the world for around a month after the roads connecting the state with the rest of the country got washed away by rains, Jaju says that NHIDCL worked closely with the local administration to restore the road and it did so in around a week’s time. Raising concerns around connectivity in the north eastern states, especially for Tripura, he said that the company is working towards improving connectivity for the state. “We are working in that direction so that the connectivity problem for these areas are mitigated. Road is the starting point and it has to be there to ensure that infrastructure equipments including turbines for power projects can be transported to these states,” said Jaju.
Looking to improve connectivity, the company has undertaken a project from Dimapur to Kohima; Kohima to Imphal and from Imphal to Moreh which has an international border with Mynamar. The company is also doing a project from Agartala to Sabroom (in the southern part of Tripura), which is close to Chittagong port in Bangladesh. Along with this, the NHIDCL is also constructing a bridge on the river Feni that connects Tripura with Chittagong port.
“The East-West corridor has technically been built and now we are trying to develop these links within the region,” said Jaju.
Work split between BRO and NHIDCL
If better connectivity within the north eastern states and other states bordering neighbouring countries is strategically crucial and BRO was entrusted with that task, the genesis of formation of NHIDCL is also the underperformance of BRO. In its nineteenth report presented before Parliament earlier this year, a standing committee was critical of the performance of BRO. Headed by the BJP MP and former Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Major General (retd) BC Khanduri, the committee asked the “BRO to explain the reasons for the “shortages” in meeting the targets”. It also pointed out the delays in completion of strategically important border roads.
While a former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), pointed that the BRO resources needs to be optimally utilised and it should cater to the needs of armed forces, Jaju said that the road construction work in these strategically located states has now been split in a manner that BRO will primarily manage defence-related infrastructure and thus take up projects that are specifically required by the army whereas all the other projects in civilian areas will be managed by NHIDCL.
All the road and related infrastructure work in civilian areas in Andaman & Nicobar, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, Nagaland and Uttarakhand will be taken up by this organisation. Some projects in West Bengal will also come under it. Even the National Highway and Development Authority will not take up any work in these areas. NHIDCL will bid out the projects to contractors and monitor the timely execution of the same.
“We need to bring in specialised contractors, consultants and execute projects in corporate manner,” said Jaju, adding that on most of the projects undertaken, the company is running ahead of its schedule. As the NHIDCL targeted to award another 800 kms of road length in the year 2016-17 after having awarded around 1,000 kms of road in first two years, the execution and timely completion of the projects will remain the key. Even Jaju says that these are difficult terrains and the work conditions pose challenge for a large part of the year due to rains.
The government will construct 1,000 km of expressways under the National Highways Development Project at a cost of Rs 16,680 crore, highways minister Nitin Gadkari informed Parliament recently.
The main criteria for selection of expressway corridors will be the traffic volume and it was approved that the Vadodara-Mumbai Corridor (400 km) be given top priority and considered for feasibility study. 600 km (remaining project portion) to be selected out of the routes identified on the basis of traffic volume.
THE HIGH DENSITY CORRIDORS
The high density corridors under NHDP Phase VI are — Vadodara-Mumbai corridor (400 km) in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Delhi-Meerut (66 km) on NH 58 in Delhi and UP, Bengaluru-Chennai (334 km) on NH 4 in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Delhi-Jaipur (261 km) on NH 8 in Delhi and Rajasthan, Delhi-Chandigarh (249 km) on NH 1 and NH 22 (now changed to Delhi, Punjab and J&K, Kolkata-Dhanbad (277 km) on NH 2 in West Bengal and Jharkhand
CONTRACT AGREEMENT: Of 66 km of Delhi-Meerut Expressway, 30.63 km has been awarded in 2 packages; contract agreement executed.
EASTERN PERIPHERAL EXPRESSWAY: The government has approved to take up Eastern Peripheral Expressway for a length of 135 km