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June 6, 2023


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Govt directs data check as roads miss target for 2nd yr

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New Delhi: The roads ministry has ordered a scrutiny of highway construction data after finding initial estimates for FY23 missing the target by a wide margin for the second year in a row, two persons aware of the development said.

Less than 11,000 km of roads may have been built in FY23, lower than the yearly target of 12,200 km, these people said. In pandemic-year FY22, only 10,457 km of highways were constructed against a target of 12,000 km.

However, some figures may not show up in data yet, including those for roads that are nearly completed but not commissioned and those hit by delays because of late statutory clearances.

Graphic: Mint

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Graphic: Mint

One of the two persons quoted above said the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), the prime road building agency, has been asked to provide all the data on highway construction and awards, including on construction that is nearing completion.

Data from other road development agencies such as National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corp Ltd (NHIDCL), Indian Roads Construction Corp (IRCC) and Border Roads Organization (BRO) will also be studied afresh to check if the FY23 numbers missed a few roads or some nearly completed projects.

Officials want to be completely sure of data for the year before it is officially released.

The ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) releases monthly data on road construction and awards in the second week of the following month. However, data for March has not been released so far.

Questions sent to NHAI and the MoRTH remained unanswered. Officials said in private that final numbers would soon be released.

While officials did not give a reason for the slow pace of construction for the past two years in spite of strong economic recovery after the pandemic, they said one factor may have to do with NHAI using a portion of the government’s budgetary allocations to cut down its own debt that has crossed 3 trillion.

Officials said this year’s weak performance may also be due to disruptions from the Omicron wave and a prolonged monsoon.

“The pace of highway construction has slowed down in the past couple of years largely due to disruptions caused by the first wave of the covid-19 that hit the country in 2020,” said Kushal Kumar Singh, partner, Deloitte India.

“A project normally follows a 12-18-month cycle to complete the DPR (detailed project report), select the developer and get financial closure. After that, the actual construction may take another 2-3 years. So, 2020 disruptions have affected the project cycle resulting in lower construction in FY22 and FY23. Things should be much better in FY24 as many of the 2020 projects would be reaching completion now,” he added.

The official quoted above said that with the government flush with funds to get roads completed at accelerated pace, visible changes could be seen next year with record high construction.

Road construction data shows that till February-end, 8064 km of highways were commissioned in the country, including a 1,200 km construction just in the month of February and just over 1,000 km in January. Even if this pace is maintained and last year’s data is related, a maximum of 10,500 -11,000 km construction would be possible in FY23. The government constructed 10,237 km of highways in the pre-pandemic period of FY20 at 28.04 km per day. This increased substantially in the first year of the pandemic when the country saw lockdowns, which indirectly helped speed up construction.

That year (FY21), a record 13,327 km of highway were built at 36.51 km per day. Last year (FY22) the pace again slowed down to 10,457 km at 28.64 km per day. The year FY23 is expected to end with 29 km/day construction while MoRTH wants construction to reach 45 km/day in FY24 with over 16,000 km of construction.

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