You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

10% of road funds has been earmarked for safety, say road transport secretary Sanjay Mitra

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-03-2017 Jyotika Sood

New Delhi: The government has introduced a hybrid annuity model (HAM), delegated more powers to states and launched an arbitration scheme to improve India’s road connectivity and revive infrastructure sector. Yet, the road sector hasn’t grown as expected. In an interview, road transport and highways secretary Sanjay Mitra talks about the poor interest in arbitration scheme aimed at releasing blocked money to contractors and concessionaires, taking up 3,000 km of national highways for safety audit and projects requiring an investment of around $7 billion to improve road connectivity being under various stages of planning and implementation. Edited excerpts:

How has the arbitration scheme performed?

The construction industry was facing a problem due to lack of capital and a lot of their money was locked up in arbitration cases. So, a meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s Office and thereafter, a cabinet decision was taken that for those arbitration cases against which an appeal has been filed, we will release 75% of their demand money against a bank guarantee. This went very well with us. So far, we have released Rs528 crore to various construction companies and we have released 10% of blocked money so far. Till now, around Rs5,000 crore is locked up in arbitration cases. We could have done more if contractors and concessionaires were more forthcoming with bank guarantees and escrow accounts. We had asked them in 181 cases to open their escrow accounts. Of a total of 191, only 10 have submitted details so far. This is one of the proactive government’s measures which the private companies and concessionaires have not picked up despite repeated requests. They are not coming forward for it.

What is the status of highway construction?

In the last 10-15 years, we are reaching the stage of maturity. We are not going to have that much roads that the targets for national highway would keep on increasing. This year, we are expecting to go substantially higher in allocation of project awards. Land acquisition takes time. Currently, we are above 22-23 km per day (of highway construction). Our awards in the last three years are tremendously good. This year, by January, it was 8,183 km. We are paying more than Rs2.5 crore per hectare for land acquisition under the revised land acquisition system. In many cases, the cost of civil construction is less than land acquisition and has steadily gone up from Rs1 crore to Rs2 crore. The biggest constraint is land and right of way. While land and utility are not under control, forest and environment are under control. We are trying to include utilities in the preparation of the DPRs (detailed project reports).

What is happening on the road safety front?

Road safety starts with correct road safety reporting. If reporting is not correct, everything is blamed on the driver. An accident can happen due to wrong road architecture, lack of crash barrier, lack of traffic signal, pedestrian error and many other reasons. However, everything is classified as driver error. So, we set up a road safety committee which prepared a format on how a road accident has to be reported. This will help in our analysis in a big way. First, we made reporting scientific.

Secondly, we started putting in money for road safety. This fiscal year, we have till now sanctioned Rs550 crore for road safety. This money is utilized for works like junction improvement, traffic slowing infrastructure, crash barriers, traffic lights and other associated things. We identified around 800 black spots (across the country) and money has been released for around 150 spots to be corrected.

I have also issued instructions for temporary measures such as installation of lights, rumble strip, traffic slowing down measures till the time long-term infrastructure measures are implemented as they take time. By the middle of this year, these will start showing results. Also, 10% of road funds has been earmarked for road safety. That is a big thing. The road fund has around Rs7,000 crore and roughly Rs700 crore will go for road safety.

We are also going to take 3000 km of national highways for road safety audit and it will be completed by end of this year. 

What is India doing to improve road connectivity in the region?

The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) pact is almost done; we are just waiting for ratification from the Bhutan government. Then, we can show good traffic movement…Bhutan’s upper house has some reservations….Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal signed a Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) on 15 June, 2016, with the objective to facilitate seamless transport of goods and passenger by road in the sub-region during the meeting of the transport ministers of the four countries at Thimphu, Bhutan. Protocols to implement the MVA are under negotiation separately for passenger and cargo vehicles. Bangladesh, India and Nepal have already ratified the framework MVA and ratification from Bhutan side is pending.

During the meeting, ADB (Asian Development Bank) pledged financial support for upgrading road infrastructure in BBIN sub-region and identified 30 priority road projects with an estimated cost of over $9 billion during 2015-2020. These projects will rehabilitate and upgrade sections of trade and transport corridors in the four countries by each country. In India, these corridors are in Northeast India, Bihar and West Bengal and are being taken up through financial assistance from ADB as well as from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency).

Two projects of 174 km in West Bengal with an estimated cost of $300 million are under implementation with loan funding by ADB and will be completed by 2018. Four projects of 589 km with estimated cost of more than $1.1 billion are at different stages of approval for implementation with ADB and JICA loan. Also, 11 projects of about 1080km with an estimated cost of $16 billion have already been cleared by the Department of Economic Affairs for implementation with JICA and ADB loan. In addition, nine projects of around 1,558 km with estimated cost of $3.93 billion are in the pipeline to be taken up with ADB loan funding.

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon