The Modi government’s ambitious target to build 30km of highways per day got a big push Saturday with finance minister Arun Jaitley increasing the allocation for the road sector by 33% over last year’s budgetary estimate.
Jaitley proposed an investment of Rs 45,751 crore for highway development in 2015-16 — up from Rs 34,345 crore in 2014-15. Highways ministry officials said this is probably one of the biggest boosts to the sector since 1998 when the then NDA government launched the National Highways Development Project — the largest government initiative to date to expand and upgrade the capacity of India’s highway network.
Of the total allocation, the National Highways Authority of India — which is responsible for developing highways — has been earmarked Rs 22,920 crore.
Over and above this the Highway ministry has been allowed to borrow a little over Rs 40,000 crore from the market to finance its ambitious highway development plan.
With the government’s special focus on developing infrastructure in the Northeast, Jaitley has earmarked Rs 4,000 crore for highway development in the region.
One of the Centre’s key strategies against Maoists — providing road connectivity to far-flung areas passing through some of the worst-affected districts — got a fillip with `400 crore allocated for road development in the areas affected by left-wing extremism.
Development of highways had hit a snail’s pace in the last few years following a slowdown in the economy. Currently, projects worth Rs 12,000 crore are languishing for either want of funds or failure to get various clearances.
The government had, last month, raised excise duties on petrol and diesel by Rs 2 a litre specifically to fund its ambitious target to build an additional 20,000km of highways in the next four years.
According to the road ministry, an additional Rs 1.76 lakh crore — nearly six times the annual budget of the NREGA scheme — will be required to fund this target.