India is a country which is heavily dependent on roads for transportation and connectivity. Stretching across 4.2 Million kilometers, Indian roads form the second largest road system in the world, next to the US which has the world’s largest road network. However, the ever increasing demand for vehicles and more road space and the slow paced development of roads presents a constant transportation challenge. As a result, the major problems also remain almost constant – increasing congestion on roads and poor quality of travelling for those who use the roads. In fact, it was to tackle these and other problems that in 1995, the Central Government established the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The main focus of the NHAI was to develop, maintain and manage the national highways.
In 1998, the NHAI was handed the responsibility of the proper implementation of the National Highways Development Program (NHDP) that was commissioned by the Government. The programme was started to prepare four or six lanes roads of national highways over a span of 13,146 kilometres. The main implementation of the NHDP is being implemented in two parts which includes the Golden Quadrilateral Project (GQ) and the North-South and East- West Corridors Project (NSEW). The GQ Project comprises of making four lane highways of national highway corridors over a stretch of 5800 kilometres which would link the four major metro cities of the country. The NSEW is vested with the responsibility of developing 7,300 kilometres of the national highway corridors from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari and Silchar to Saurashtra. The total cost of construction for the NHDP was estimated to be approximately Rs. 54,000 crores as per 1999 prices. The main funding for the NHDP is expected to come from the cess on petrol and diesel, external assistance and market borrowings. An environmental study of the proposed construction activities is carried out to establish the baseline environmental aspects of the project corridor and to analyse the expected impacts, areas to be avoided and possible cost effective mitigation measures. These mitigation measures need to be stream lined with the engineering design and social impact for effective implementation.
Functions of the NHAI
The functions of the NHAI include:
- Surveying, maintaining and managing national highways.
- Constructing offices, workshops and maintaining hotels, motels and restaurants near the highways.
- Constructing residential buildings and townships for its employees.
- Regulating and controlling the plying of vehicles on highways.
- Providing proper facilities and amenities for users to have a smooth flow of traffic on highways.
- Giving necessary advice to the Central Government on important matters for the development and up gradation of the highways.
- Collecting fees on behalf of the Central Government for the services provided.
The contractor gets a commission for the work and he takes a fixed per cent of that commission for himself. And the chain continues doing the same thing with the total money that has been allotted. As a result of such practices the quality of the roads is very poor as poor quality materials are used to save money. So naturally, the roads last for very little time. All these are major problems which have been in existence since the last two decades and yet no proper solutions have been found. With more vehicles on the roads, the problems are bound to increase at an alarming rate. When will the Government wake up and act?
Problems with the NHAI
The slow pace of implementation of the project is quite appalling. Whereas 9,300 kilometres of roads were to be constructed this year but only 900 kilometres have been completed so far. Obviously, only 10 per cent of the targeted work has been completed which brings up a big question of irresponsibility on the part of the authorities vested with the responsibility of proper implementation of the project. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) aspect, which is the basis of the project, also leaves much to be desired. The private players are vested with some of the most important roles of improving the efficiency of work, speedy implementation and making easy the availability of scarce public resources. However, roads are not being prepared efficiently as a result of which the quality of the roads is not good and they ‘degrade’ within a short span of time. The fact that only 10 percent of work has been completed so far despite PPP which was meant to help with speedy implementation speaks for itself. Corruption and the contract system is another major negative factor. Road contractors, to gain money out of the project, have created a chain starting from contractor to a sub contractor and then another contractor to follow. This way the contractors have ensured that profits can be earned from the project through the means of commission. The contractor gets a commission for the work and he takes a fixed per cent of that commission for himself. And the chain continues doing the same thing with the total money that has been allotted. As a result of such practices the quality of the roads is very poor as poor quality materials are used to save money. So naturally, the roads last for very little time. All these are major problems which have been in existence since the last two decades and yet no proper solutions have been found. With more vehicles on the roads, the problems are bound to increase at an alarming rate. When will the Government wake up and act?