Bumpy Roads: Understanding the Challenges in India’s Highway Construction
Highway awarding and construction in India faced challenges during the first seven months of the fiscal year 2023-24 (7MFY24). The data shows that 2,595 km were awarded and 4,474 km were constructed. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) awarding, excluding maintenance and balance completion works, was weak at 259 km during April-November 2023.
Approval and fresh bidding for highway projects under Bharatmala have been put on hold until new Cabinet approval is obtained for the revised cost. The cost of Bharatmala has nearly doubled from Rs.5.35 trillion to Rs.10.6 trillion. The Finance Ministry has instructed the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) not to create any fresh liability under the program until approval is received.
The government has taken steps to ensure the timely completion of projects, such as awarding projects after adequate preparation in terms of land acquisition and pre-construction activities, streamlining the land acquisition notification process, and simplifying the procedure for the approval of General Arrangement Drawing (GAD) by Railways.
The average pace of highway construction in India has been slowing down, with the average pace in 2022-23 at 18.97 km/day, lower than the previous year’s average of 20.89 km/day and significantly lower than the 36.5 km per day average in 2020-21.
Challenges such as decreased government spending and a slowdown in private investment have contributed to the slowing pace of highway construction. This slowdown has implications for India’s economic growth, as improved highways are crucial for reducing logistics costs and boosting trade.
As per Nitin Gadkari, as of November 30, 2023, 667 national highway projects were delayed, with the construction phase extending beyond their original completion schedule. Work for the upgradation of highways is ongoing in various parts of the country.
In a positive development, wayside amenities, including Electric Vehicle (EV) charging facilities, have been developed along national highways in India.