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5th India Roads Conference

Expressways to be bid out only after 100% land acquisition

Technology application could be key to PPP in rural roads

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the National Rural Roads Development Agency (NRRDA) and the state road development corporations will be busy next year. A major part—about 20,000 km—of the National Highways Development Programme’s (NHDP) Phase IV will be bid out in 2012. On another front, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), targeted at covering rural habitations with motorable roads, will see a large augmentation in budgetary allocation in the 12th Plan, and will be more aggressive. Many states have shown aggression in connecting their states’ cities, towns and villages better next year.

While more projects likely to be offered next year onwards on an EPC model, experts forecast that many rural road projects may be awarded through PPP by bundling in packages: New pilot schemes including the “modified EPC basis” will be on the anvil.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced recently that “In the 12th Plan (2012-17), we will pay special attention to the remote areas of our country and to rural areas. Connecting such areas by rail and road will get the top-most priority.”

How will our country achieve the objective that the Prime Minister has set at the threshold of the new Five Year Plan? With its underlying theme, “Connecting Rural with Urban India for Inclusive Growth”, the 5th India Roads Conference triggered policy as well as brass-tack questions on the linkages will be seamless and qualitatively superior. The two-day conference held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi on February 15-16 was jointly chaired by JN Singh, Member (Finance), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), and Arvind Mayaram, Additional Secretary and FA at the Union Ministry of Rural Development. Guest of Honour AK Upadhyay, Secretary—Roads at the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, and Chairman, NHAI, said the topic of the conference was very relevant and emphasised that the stretch from highways to rural roads needs to be “seamless”. He announced that financial closure for the Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway had been achieved.

Expressway bid-out: In his address, Singh announced that the new expressways, the first of which is planned between Delhi and Meerut, will be bid out only after land acquisition is complete or at least nearing completion, as against the norm for National Highways (NHs) development, whereby construction starts after 80 per cent of the land acquired by invoking Right-of-Way (RoW). Expressways will be necessarily greenfield projects and land acquisition may not be as straightforward as in the mostly-brownfield NH expansion projects.

Quality concerns: Expectedly, as Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in infrastructure goes on-stream, debate as to its success has begun. Speakers significantly questioned whether PPP had necessarily ensured qualitative improvement in highways. Even though the expectation from Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) roads was of superior construction quality so as to support lower maintenance costs (stemming from the Defect Liability Clause), this has not happened in reality. Indeed, the contractual Engineering, Procurement, Construction (EPC) projects have proved to be superior in quality as well as in maintaining timelines. A quality inspection specialist warned that warranty systems based on assured quality of construction would soon find their way into India. Such systems are a norm in most western countries.

Application of research? New technology and processes such as enzyme-based surface technology (whose pilot project in Maharashtra enabled a 4 km greenfield stretch to be completed in 14 days), as well as existing ones such as fly ash and coir-based surface material were discussed, and led to a debate on why new technology, even though internationally accepted—even exported—has not been acceptable en masse on Indian roads. Speakers and delegates pointed out that while low-cost technology would be particularly useful while inviting private participation in the small-ticket rural road projects, the adoption and massification and approval levels of such technology was very low.

Rural roads bundling: The rural roads segment of the conference was a major draw more out of curiosity among private players, who later identified that segment as an eye-opener of sorts because of the information it offered. Mayaram outlined the plan for PPP in rural roads, whereby small clusters of roads around a location would be bid out, amounting to Rs 50-100 crore.

The event was organised by Mumbai-based ASAPP Conferences, and presented by IL&FS Transportation. Pratap Vijay Padode, President, FIRST Infocentre, the research associate of the conference, said: “This is the first time an attempt has been made to look at roads in a holistic way, bridging highways with rural roads. This went down very well, and stakeholders found it a revelation to understand ways in which they can participate in the nation’s road-building exercise.” 

IndiaCore.comIndia TransportIndian TollwaysNational Highway Builders FederationI-Tec-IndiaCentarl Road Research InstituteIL&FS Transportation Networks LTD