Thursday, February 23, 2006

Road to nowhere

. . Heres a heart rending piece on the state of Indias National highways (its a travesty to call them that for the most part) in The Indian Express by B C Khanduri, who was the surface transport minister in the previous government. The Indian Express has, over the last few weeks covered the "Golden Quadrilateral that is now a series of disjointed segments"

In the piece, BC Khanduri writes about how the previous government had gone about acquiring land before awarding contracts, while at present contracts are given out without acquiring land.

... by May 2004, out of 8276 hectares of land required for the entire length of the Golden Quadrilateral, as much as 7180 hectares had been acquired, the bulk of it in 2002 and 2003. The UPA government, on the other hand, just for the sake of “statistical” achievement, has awarded a large number of contracts for NHDP II without acquisition of land in most cases, as is evident from these figures:

• Assam: with less than 20 per cent land acquired, 21 contracts have been awarded covering about 550 km.

• Andhra Pradesh: with only 0.25 per cent land acquired, four contracts have been awarded for about 250 km.

• Bihar: with just 4 per cent land acquired, 12 contracts have been awarded covering about 450 km.

• Maharashtra, Kerala, Haryana & Punjab: contracts have been awarded without acquisition of any land.

Thats the shape the project (NHDP I, NHDP II) envisaged by the former Prime Minister to connect the country is in today. The GQ was supposed to connect the four cities, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and two diagonals were supposed to connect North-South (Srinagar to Kanyakumari with a spur from Salem to Cochin) and East-West (Silchar to Porbander). The sad state of our roads are known to all.

A backgrounder on the programme would highlight its importance. Out of 3.32 million km of the Indian road network, only 65,569 km is part of the National Highways. In spite of being only 2 per cent of the road network, the National Highways, which are the responsibility of the Centre under the Constitution, carry 40 per cent of the total transport traffic.

Long neglect of the National Highways was apparent from the fact that in 2000 almost 18,000 km of the National Highways was single-laned and about 80 per cent had weak pavement to carry the axle load. Reconstruction of highways suffered from lack of funding and an inefficient institutional framework. In addition, gross misuse of roads by overloading trucks was causing immense damage.

Yet, the new government has chosen to spend tons of taxpayers money on Employment Guarantee Schemes and other "castle in the air" schemes instead of getting the roads in better shape.

Heres how the whole scheme looks today...

Of 3.32 m km of roads 65,569 km (2%) are National Highways, carry 40% of transport. So the plan was:
NHDP Phase-I and II (14000 km)
• Involved 4-6 laning of 6,295 km, estimated cost Rs 30,300 cr, GQ project connecting four metros
Bharat Jodo Pariyojana (10,000 km)
• Strengthening 41,000 km on BOT (Annuity Basis) Express Way or 6 laning of high density sections

• Dec 2000: CCEA approved Phase-I of NHDP
• 2002-end: 110 contracts awarded at a cost of Rs 25,000 cr covering the entire length of GQ (except 134 Km)
• May 2004: Of required 8276 hectares, 7,180 hectares land acquired; Of 5,846 km roads, 2,801 km opened for traffic, rest was expected to be open by 2005-end
• North-South (Srinagar-Kanyakumari
with spur from Salem-Cochin) and East-West (Silchar-Porbander) corridors,
overall 7,300 km
Behind schedule by two years

• Low priority given to land acquisition
• May 2004-Nov 2005: Around 632 hectares land acquired between May 2004 to Nov 2005
• 7 projects, where bids were invited by the NDA, delayed

BC Khanduri ends his piece with a pithy...Creating world-class infrastructure requires continuation of policies, sustained commitment and a degree of national consensus.

Apparently, the new government thinks that the highways will get built on their own without land acquisition. Right now it is a road to nowhere and isnt leading to anywhere in a hurry. We have to wait for another 50 years perhaps to get anywhere near world class highways.

Heres a history of the US highway system and heres how that page ends.

...The history of US highways is a reflection of the history of 20th Century America...

The history of our highways could well turn out to be a reflection of the history 21st century India and missed/delayed/frittered opportunities.


Karthik R said...

And here I thought TR Baalu was doing a good job. The guy has been on a tear announcing new projects. Is it all just sound and fury? Very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I do not wish to refute anything said here but this is my first hand experience

I have done ...
N number of Mumbai Pune by express way
Pune Satara stretch once

Belgaum Kolhapur stretch once

(All this on Mumbai -B'lore arm of the quadrilateral)

Mumbai to goa on NH4 once...

and baring the Mumbai pune road I had done it on bike with speedo not getting below 80 for one straight continuous minute

My take is that the roads which i have mentioned are tremendous and improved amazingly over last 5 years and i think the ex govt as well as currenly government has really done a decent job here

Neelakantan said...

Thats how all the other roads could be if somebody took decisive action. The Bombay Bangalore is one of the better sections (and that is not fully complete). So your sampling of Indias highways is a small sample that happens to be an exception. (The Bombay Pune freeway is a great exception - and afaik is out of the purview of the GQ project)

Prasanth said...

I travelled the Chennai - Tindivanam stretch yesterday and it was great - except for the fact that the road just ends - in Tindivanam. After that, it is back to the roads of the good old days - were you can do hardly 50 Kms per hour and have to drive in fear of hitting stray cattle/people/broken down trucks. I could not see any road building activity - may be it will get completed in our grand kids time.