Interview: NHAI chairman Raghav Chandra
Yogesh Vajpeyi | May 20, 2016
NHAI chairman Raghav Chandra talks about steps taken by the highway authority to speed up highway construction projects, improve maintenance of highways and make them safer and more user friendly. Excerpts from an interview with Yogesh Vajpeyi.
How much highway construction was done last year and what are the plans for this fiscal?
We have taken a number of steps to remove bottlenecks by expediting the award of project contracts and ensuring their timely implementation with positive results. In 2015-16, we have constructed 2,000 km against 1,500 km in 2014-15. In 2016-17, we shall award 6,000 km of highways and construct new stretches with a total length of 3,000 km. Our overall development spending has gone up by more than 50 percent over the previous year. Keeping in view that our projects are more complex 4-6 lane structures, which involve private participation, with requirement of 60-100 metre right-of-way and need detailed forest/environmental, wildlife clearances and utility shifting, this is no mean task.
What are the modes to implement these projects?
About half of these projects will be built through the engineering-procurement-construction [EPC] route and the newly designed hybrid annuity model will be used for the other half. However, we have not given up on BOT [build-operate transfer, or ‘toll’] route and are trying to develop 10 percent of the projects through this route. We expect demand from developers for the BOT projects to improve once their balance-sheets improve and the overall banking sector looks up.
How do you plan to increase investment in the road sector?
Of the total budget of Rs 70,000 crore for this financial year, we plan to raise Rs 50,000-55,000 crore through market borrowings, both offshore and onshore. The International Finance Corporation and State Bank Capital Markets will assist us in financing arrangements. We hope to increase our toll revenue from Rs 6,500 crore last year to Rs 7,500 crore this year. We are enabling new investments into the road sector by allowing partial divestments and exits of existing developers so that they can bid for new projects. Already, nine highway projects have been divested and new pension and infrastructure funds have brought in global practices in highway management.
What are the main problems that NHAI faces?
Land acquisition and utility shifting with the participation of state governments are some key problem areas. The NHAI has been extremely sensitive to those whose land has been taken, yet state governments have been slow in disbursing the compensations leading to delays. Forest and environment clearances also take time. We have increased the pace in coordination with state governments. Now, we cite department-wise problems so that it becomes easier for a state chief secretary to resolve issues and hold more joint meetings with state functionaries. We monitor progress on a weekly basis, via video-conferencing.
What about complaints of delays at toll plazas?
We have rolled out a cashless payment mechanism, ‘FASTag’, on over 275 toll plazas that would facilitate near non-stop movement of vehicles. It employs RFID technology for making toll payments directly from the pre-paid account linked to it. A vehicle using FASTag will use a dedicated FASTag lane to have cashless travel. This will not only increase user convenience, and save on time, money and fuel but also improve transparency of toll transactions and reduce revenue leakages. By and by, we will increase the number of lanes that are cashless.
How will you deter overloaded trucks plying on national highways?
We have decided to force them off the roads till the extra load is removed at the cost and risk of the transporters. This will be in addition to levying penal charges of 10 times the applicable fee at the toll plazas that is presently being imposed on overloaded vehicles. This move will bring down road accidents as overloaded vehicles are one of the major contributors to fatal accidents. It will also prevent premature damage to national highways and bring down vehicular pollution.
What steps are you taking to make the highways safer?
We are committed to improve safety and efficiency on highways. We are incorporating safety elements into designing of highways and have worked out short- and long-term action plans to make roads safer. Black spots on highways have been identified and remedial engineering measures to reduce accidents are being taken up. We have sought government approval for awarding projects worth Rs 5,000 crore every year to install safety features on highways. A special cell for safety has been created in NHAI with experts on safety with global experience. A lot of work is going on in this direction.
How do you plan to tone up your road management system?
NHAI has launched a state-of-the-art integrated data collection system that will compile information on road assets, condition of the pavements and traffic through use of modern technology. It will assist in developing an accurate and scientific maintenance planning mechanism, finalising road safety measures and development of the National Highways Network in India. The development of Road Asset Management System (RAMS) for the entire national highways along with collection of requisite data over 3,000 km of the pilot road network is underway.
Any other special measures?
We have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) and the North East Centre for Technology Application and Research (NECTAR) for use of spatial technology for monitoring and managing national highways. The use of satellite data and geospatial technology will be useful in providing inputs in highway and infrastructure projects for preparation of DPR, pre-feasibility status in new alignment, upgrade/road widening, monitoring of road segments under construction and Road Asset Management System. The use and benefits of unmanned aerial vehicle technology will be useful in monitoring construction progress, Road Asset Management, feasibility report and DPR preparation, immediate assessment and remedy of problematic spots, etc. We will take up some pilot projects with both the organisations to identify and finalise actual use and benefits of both satellite data and geospatial technology, and UAV technology in highway and infrastructure sector. A technical cell would also be set up which will run 24x7 to provide relevant project specific data using this technology to project report consultants, engineers, staff and users.
Does NHAI plan to expand out of India?
Our minister [road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari] is very keen on setting up NHAI International. It will all depend upon the opportunities that are thrown up and the kind of projects we get.
How do you address environmental issues?
NHAI recently convened a meeting with the representatives from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the ministry of environment, and forest and climate change. This initiative would now continue through regular meetings once every quarter, providing a structured platform for expeditious consultations with all stakeholders for convergence of development goals with conservation needs. We have a flexible approach towards creating structures that will help mitigate risks to wildlife and will find finances to ensure that there is no compromise on this score. We are also launching a green highways initiative and 10 percent of all new highway projects are reserved for green plantations and sustainability development.
What measure are you taking for commuters’ comfort?
For the first time a comprehensive programme for developing wayside amenities at every 50 km of national highways is being drawn out and 39 major amenity outlets are being bid out this month, on PPP basis. We are also involving the petroleum companies to improve wayside amenities as per NHAI standards.
(The interview appears in the May 16-31, 2016 issue)