Ministry contradicts the President, concedes 7,600 Kms added to National Highways since 2014
Not 50,000 kilometres as claimed in the President's address but 7,600 Kms were added, concedes a written reply by the Ministry; and that too by upgrading state roads, explains James Wilson
As against 90,000 kilometres of national highways in March 2014, today we have more than 1,40,000 kms of national highways.” President Ram Nath Kovind made this assertion in his customary address to a joint sitting of Parliament ahead of the Budget session on January 31.
Highway building is a very costly exercise and generate greater economic activity. Construction of each kilometre of the national highway requires around Rs.30-35 crore. That implies an additional construction of around 50,000 km of national highways injects a capital expenditure of 15-17.5 lakh crores rupees in the last seven years. This means between 2.14 to 2.50 lakh crores rupees per year capital expenditure shall be spent on highway development, which looks quite unbelievable considering the state of the Indian economy.
Hence this tall claim warrants a closer examination. Parliament questions are a gold mine of authentic government data and it is the best source to sift the facts. To a question by Neeraj Sarkar, dated 15.12.2021, Minister for Road, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari replied that about 49,087 kms of state roads including State Highways are notified as National Highways since 2014-15.
It is also disclosed in Parliament that works on notified NHs, including the new declared NHs, are taken up as per inter-se-priority, progress of ongoing works, availability of funds and traffic density. No financial allocation is separately made for such upgradation of State Roads as NHs. As per the Annexure to the answer, it is also disclosed that during 2020-21, an amount of Rs.65,036 crores and in 2021-22 (till 31.10.21) another Rs.31,524 crores were incurred. These amounts are nowhere near the investment needed to develop the notified state roads to the standard of NHs.
When I tweeted that the out of the 50,000 kilometre of new NHs added after 2014-15 was nothing but notified state roads, Ministry of Roads, Transport and Highways (MoRTH) responded that after declaration of NH, the State Highway is upgraded to NH standard by way of line augmentation, geometric improvement, safety parameters and other standards by Government of India.
National Highway is a GoI property and all its expenses for up-gradation and subsequent maintenance is borne by the Union government. This is obvious.
But my further question to how much of the above 49,000 kilometre of state roads how much is now upgraded to NH standard, MoRTH clarified that they have declared 49,340 kms national highways since 2014-15. Out of this, 7683 km has already has been completed. 12508 km is under implementation. 13684 km is under DPR/award stage and for the balance, DPR study is yet to commence.
From the answer it is evident that after 2014-15, only 7,683 kilometre of notified state highways have been upgraded so far to the National Highway standard and rest are still a work in progress.
(James Wilson is a data analyst and policy observer)
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)
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Published: 04 Feb 2022, 3:00 PM