By Rohit Vaid

New Delhi–The government is planning to launch a dedicated international subsidiary of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to take up roads and highway projects abroad, particularly in South Asia.

Simultaneously, India is also looking forward to setting up joint ventures (JVs) for road construction in neighbouring countries.

Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said his ministry was considering a proposal to launch “NHAI International” for undertaking roads and highway construction projects abroad.

Experts say that such a subsidiary could be in the form of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which will collaborate with foreign companies to bag international projects.

The minister said India is keen to participate in road construction in neighbouring countries like Iran, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka through joint ventures.

Nitin Gadkari

“We are promoting road construction joint ventures in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has already agreed to allot a couple of road projects in northern Sri Lanka to us,” Road Transport and Highways Minister Gadkari told IANS in an interview.

“We have plans to develop road projects in Iran as part of the development of Chabahar Port-related projects.”

On the domestic front, the minister has set his sights on achieving a target of construction of 40 km of roads per day in the next year or so.

“If I could achieve 23 km per day from the rock bottom 2 km per day in three years, there is no reason I could not reach close to my next target of 40 km per day in the next one year or so,” Gadkari said.

“Projects like road and highway construction, including tunnels, over-bridges and roadside amenities and other related projects also depends on various other factors like weather conditions and local issues.”

As per various estimates, India has one of the longest road networks across the world at over five million kilometres. The network consists of national highways, state highways, major district roads and rural roads.

Out of the total road network, national highways and expressways account for only two per cent, but are used to transport more than 40 per cent of all goods and passenger traffic.

The slow average speeds on these highways due to high road density and non-availability of access-control measures allows cargo laden trucks to travel only 225-250 km per day.

The overall target is to increase the national highways length to two lakh kilometres but delays in land acquisition and a famine of private investment has slowed down progress.

For 2016-17, 23 km of roads were constructed per day, up from 16.6 km a day in 2015-16.

In the Union Budget 2017-18, the central government allotted Rs 64,000 crore ($9.55 billion) to NHAI for roads and highways and Rs 27,000 crore ($4.03 billion) for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) that is focused on rural roads.

However, road and highway construction did not gather pace automatically, as the minister recalled three years back there were 400 projects which were stuck due to problems relating to land acquisition, environment and forest clearances, and rail over bridges.

“There was an atmosphere of gloom and disillusionment. Contractors were unwilling to continue with the projects and bank NPAs (non-performing assets) were piling up,” Gadkari said.

“I encouraged all the stakeholders and organised face-to-face meetings with the state government officials, bank managers, NHAI officials and the contractors.

“In the last three years we have collectively resolved most of the knotty issues, cleared road blocks and put the projects back on track. There is hardly any project which is stuck.” (IANS)