Highways minister Nitin Gadkari has sought the removal of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) chairman, RP Singh, whose tenure ends next June, on the ground that he was unable to keep pace with the government's ambitious target of building 30 km of highways every day.
Singh was appointed to the NHAI on a three-year contract in June 2012. Government sources said Gadkari had been unhappy with the NHAI chief for a few months now and has taken up his removal with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
Sources say Gadkari and Singh were not on the same page on many issues but the minister's main grouse was the NHAI chief's slow decision making and failure to effectively monitor implementation of projects, at a time when the government wants to give a big boost to infrastructure creation.
A 1976-batch IAS officer, Singh was appointed to the NHAI by the UPA government after he retired as secretary, department of industrial policy and promotion. Singh was the first beneficiary of a change in rule cleared by former PM Manmohan Singh that allowed technocrats and retired officers to apply for the job.
Those favouring Singh's ouster say that it was under his watch that NHAI's performance - both in awarding as well as constructing highways - hit rock bottom.
In 2013-14, NHAI awarded just 1436 km stretch of highways as against the target of 7,500 km. Besides, some 28 projects worth Rs 43,918 crore failed to attract bids since 2012.
Many in the government blame the slowdown in economy, delay in getting the required regulatory clearances and government's opaque policies behind NHAI's poor show. These officials credit the NHAI chief for proposing corrective measures such as allowing developers to restructure the premium that they paid to bag projects and exiting completed/ongoing projects to free up equity.
This fiscal, NHAI has so far managed to award just eight projects covering a stretch of 797 km as against the target of 5,000 km.