There is irony in the number of roadblocks stalling the national highway project. The government’s ambitions of creating a road network connecting India as part of its Bharat Nirman project is fast losing momentum because of a singular lack of consensus among the various ministries, committees and the National Highways Authority of India. A review meet on Monday reported that only 35 per cent of the scheduled projects had been awarded. This validates the Prime Minister’s earlier concern that the slowing down of road construction was assuming alarming proportions.
This could be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, but it more likely stems from poor management policies. Derailing the process, allege NHAI officials, is the slow sanctions made by the Public-Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC) — a body of Law, Finance and Surface Transport ministries and Planning Commission officials — which, in turn, blames the tardy submission of projects for the delay. The PPPAC was created to ensure transparency in dealings, with a guiding and monitoring capacity. The project involves an investment of Rs 1,75,000 crore up to 2012 for the expansion of roads into two-four-six lanes and new roads to connect the smaller villages. But the clearly delineated framework seems to have got mangled. In this pass-the-buck game, the slippages in construction have risen to almost 65 per cent. By June this year, barely 125 km were being added in a month. This, even when the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) cleared the six-laning of 6,500 km of highways at a cost of Rs 42,210 crore. But moving the behemoth of organisation demands far greater leadership skills than mere clearances. The current dissent is mainly over the business models for the second phase of expansions.
“The sense of urgency and time-boundedness” as defined by the PM is what is lacking. The government needs to reappraise the project before it actually comes to a grinding halt. The success of the highways project will make, in the PM'’ words, “the most significant dent on rural poverty”. To that end, there is simply no room for failure.