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I believe that Politics is an instrument for socio-economic reforms, says Shri Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road, Transport & Highways, GoI

I believe that Politics is an instrument for socio-economic reforms

Shri Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road, Transport & Highways, GoI, shares a detailed insight on to the Ministry’s visions, unique modus operandi and growth agenda set, in an exclusive interview with Tejasvi Sharma, Editor-in-Chief, EPC World

 

Sir, recently you announced about 27 new highways to be ready by this December, which includes Delhi – Mumbaidistance in 12 hours. Could you brief us upon the developments on this project?
The Delh-Mumbai expressway will make it possible for citizens to travel from Nariman Point, Mumbai to Delhi in 12 hours. The two sections of the expressway, the Delhi – Dausa – Lalsot section which is part of the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway and the Vadodara-Ankleshwar Section which connects Vadodara to the economic hub of Bharuch are likely to opened for traffic by March 2022. The complete expressway is planned to be completed by March 2023. The 1,382 km of Delhi Mumbai Expressway is being built at a total capital cost of INR 95,550 crore Out of the total length, 657 kms of length has already been completed.1,198 km length with total capital cost of INR 75,854 crore is also already under construction. 139 km of length with total capital cost of Rs. 15,800 cr. is awarded – not appointed. And only 15 km of length with capital cost of INR 2,500 crore is yet to be awarded.

To give you a brief overview, the overall completion timeline planned is as follows:-

  • Delhi (Sohna) – Lalsot - to be completed by August ‘22
  • Kota – Ratlam – Jhabhua by November 2022
  • Vadodara – Ankleshwar by August 2022
  • Lalsot – Kota by March 2023
  • DND-Sohna and Jewar Airport Spur is expected to be completed by March ‘24
  • Jhabhua – Vadodara is expected to be completed by March 2024
  • Ankleshwar – Mumbai, JNPT link is expected to be completed by March 2024

You recently shared your vision to make Green Hydrogen available at 1$ (Rs. 80/-) per kg. Could you brief us more about the initiatives planned towards achieving the same?
Addressing the nation on 75th Independence Day, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the National Hydrogen Mission with an aim to make India a hub for the production and export of green hydrogen.Green hydrogen will leverage India’s most important natural resource – abundant solar and wind resources and will fast-track India towards zero-energy imports by 2047. In addition, India has abundant land, large coastline and world class clean-energy project execution capabilities to become a global hub for green hydrogen and green hydrogen derived products.Indian Start-ups are manufacturing low cost compact size electrolysers.We have abundant bio-mass which can be used to produce Green Hydrogen.With Roof top hydrogen system, using solar energy and wind mill, solid and liquid waste can be used to get Green hydrogen at very low cost.We are exploring use of green hydrogen as clean source of energy across industries. While the current green hydrogen prices over around $3 to 6 / Kg globally, India can bring this prices down to $2/Kg by 2025 and $1/Kg by 2030.Local manufacturing of electrolysers, mass application and dollar based bidding for green hydrogen (as done in oil sector) will make this ambition a reality.

India has a challenging and varied terrain and topographic condition. How has such geographical factors challenged and influenced the project planning, designing and execution process? How do you see the role played by private technology experts in assisting the Governing bodies towards executing such complex projects?
The fast pace and improved quality of highway network construction by MoRT&H in the past was driven by the adoption of various digital technologies across all the stages of project lifecycle, right from pre-construction stage (DPR preparation and land acquisition) to Highway operations (maintenance monitoring and toll collection). Utilization of modern surveying technologies such as LiDAR, Drone photogrammetry for topographic survey along with use of Geospatial technology for integrated planning has improved the accuracy and quality of surveying and highway alignment planning. In addition, the use of Drone Photogrammetry has helped MoRT&H in improving efficiency and reduce cost of surveying as compared to LiDAR. MoRT&H has also undertaken initiatives to increase adoption of PM GatiShakti NMP Portal leveraging Geospatial technology for efficient infrastructure planning and DPR preparation.
Today, the evolving opportunities from Indian infrastructure sector has pulled in attraction from numerous international majors in investing and venturing to explore projects and opportunities. Please share with us the approach adopted by your Ministry towards encouraging such participation.

Participation of private players is in focus for the Government by the EPC, BOT, and HAM mode.

Out of the projects planned for award in FY21-22, the split for mix of projects is as follows:

  • 4,395 km is planned under HAM which is nearly 31%
  • 127 km is planned under BOT (Toll) is nearly 1%
  • Remaining 9,778 km or 68% of the target for award is planned mostly under EPC Mode with a few under Item Rate

In FY2022-23, we are planning to sustain the award target of 12,000 km. Till June’22, we have awarded ~765 km, out of which 173 (23%) km has been awarded under HAM and the remaining 592 km (77%) has been awarded under EPC.We have developed an Asset Monetization Strategy and the same has been placed in public domain, to encourage interest and participation in highways projects.

NHAI has set up an InvIT to monetize its completed and operational National highways projects with the objective of mobilizing additional resources through capital markets.

  • Numerous steps undertaken to improve Ease of doing business in the sector. This includes:-
  • Awarding project only when 90% land is acquired
  • Resolving LA issues through descoping
  • Dispute Resolution Board - Resolving pending disputes through one time settlement process
  • Re-financing HAM projects having COD
  • Awarding financial closure within 1 working day  to Concessionaire/Lenders
  • Change of ownership after 6 months of COD
  • Benchmark interest rate for annuities linked to market rates
  • Increase in number of payment milestones
  • Change in Model Concessional Agreement (MCA) of TOT model allowing non-disclosure of Initial Estimated Concession value (IECV) before bidding process
  • Relaxation in technical and financial eligibility criteria for road tunnel project

The Ministry has also been keenly rooting for audits to improve Road Safety and road engineering. Please brief us about the initiatives.

India has the most fatalities in the world. Road accidents put a heavy socio-economic burden on society and the nation as a whole. Road accidents costs 3.14 % loss to our GDP.  My vision is to achieve a 50% reduction in road accident deaths by 2025 and Zero fatal accidents in the country by 2030 by taking various initiatives, policy reforms, and adopting the Safe Systems.

To curb this complex problem, my Ministry is restructuring and strengthening 4E’s of Road safety that is,

  • Engineering (Safer Road, Safer Vehicle) 
  • Enforcement
  • Education  and
  • Emergency Care Services

We have mandated Road Safety Audit (RSA) for all roads projects during each DPR, Engineering design, construction, and operation stage. Road safety audit formore than 60, 000 km of National Highway has been completed.  There is a provision of a dedicated road safety fund in the contract, including Land acquisition. 

The Ministry has issued a letter regarding taking advance action for removal of accident spots on NHs as per Police Reports without waiting for converting them into black spots after accidents/fatalities.

We have implemented the system of National Highway Rating where road safety is the prime performance parameter. National Highways identified under-rated on safety, will be prioritized for engineering treatment. There is a District Road Safety Committee constituted under the chairmanship of Member of Parliament to promote road safety awareness and to mitigate concerning issues in their constituency. The Ministry has been working in association with health care agencies, vehicle manufactures, corporates, NGOs, educational institutes for strengthening the road safety mission on all 4Es front.

For instance, one of the NGOs, save life foundation has proposed several measures and identified 52 engineering defects. We are taking action on all such measures like Engineering and enforcement to achieve Zero fatalities corridor.

We are adopting advanced technologies like intelligent transportation systems (ITS), Artificial Intelligence, IoT-based tools, Electronic surveillance, Aerial Drones for better enforcement of traffic laws and efficient traffic operation.

Please throw some light upon the other key mega projects to look forward to from the road transport and highways sector?
To facilitate improvement of logistics for freight, MoRTH is developing 35 Multi modal logistics parks as a part of Bharatmala Pariyojana with a cost of Rs.1 lakh crore. The Ministry is working on development of Last mile connectivity modes – Ropeway, Cable car, Funicular rail system at hilly and congested regions.We are developing wayside amenities at every 40 to 50 km along the National Highways. More than 600 WSAs are being constructed. Additionally, MoRTH is developing Inter Modal Stations to streamline movement of passengers. The Ministry is working to install intelligent traffic system for smooth and safe traffic operation along the highways. We intend to shift our public transport on electricity. EV charging stations and Fuel stations with alternate fuels are being encourage for installation at WSA. E-highway system is being planned to install in between Delhi-Jaipur section of Delhi-Mumbai Expressway.Optical fiber infrastructures are being built within the ROW along the highways to provide faster internet connectivity to rural areas/villages.Ministry is also facilitating for setting up of Automated Vehicle testing stations, Scrapping facilities and Driving Training centres across the country.  

From Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana to creating economic corridors, world-class expressways connecting the nooks and corners of India and path-breaking tunnel structures to establish connectivity across the challenging terrains, we are witnessing a series of face-lifting projects in your tenure.Over your esteemed years of expertise please highlight upon the evolution and role of technologies in fostering and fast-tracking such projects?
A prime necessity while executing projects in the road sector is to reduce the cost of construction and improve the quality of construction.In the highway construction, MoRTH has deployed various new technologies for time and cost efficiencies, for example, Ultra-High-Performance Concrete and Pre-cast concrete. MoRTH has created various policies and guidelines to support the wider adoption of these technologies to lend even greater pace to highway construction in the country. The Ministry is currently focusing on developing guidelines for the proven technologies as per the CRRI which will help in smoother and faster implementation. MoRTH is also working to include Value engineering as part of the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Contract document. The inclusion of Value engineering the EPC contract will help in adoption of cost-effective technologies and better engineering.
The Ministry has made several efforts to help the Road developers/ Solution Providers to Adopt New Technologies. These Technologies have proven to be sustainable and even have cost benefits in the long term. MoRTH has actively engaged with highway developers to identify and work out solutions to roadblocks in the adoption of proven new technologies in the construction of highways including soil stabilization, UHPC (Ultra High-Performance Concrete), pre-cast construction. MoRTH hosted a Brainstorming session focusing on overcoming the issues in adoption of 6 major Proven New Technologies. These technologies include Soil Stabilization Techniques, Ultra-High Performance Fiber Reinforced Concrete, Recycling of Construction Materials with emphasis on Reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP), Prefabricated Modular Steel Bridges, Pre Cast Structures and Applications of Geosynthetics. Various issues in IRC Codal guidelines were highlighted on which ministry is determined to provide solutions. Also, a few concerns were highlighted regarding the financial constraints and lack of knowledge.

Recently, in the Manthan event, held in Bangalore, ministry encouraged the ministers to increase adoption of the proven technologies in their states.

The GOI has been very keen on promoting Greenfield projects and sustainable constructions. Even the new 27 Green express highways were announced on these lines. Please share with us about the views and project execution process adopted for such ‘Green’ projects?

The government is developing 27 Greenfield expressways and access controlled corridors under Bhartmala Pariyojana. An optimization study was conducted to identify and create an efficient network of national highways considering the origin and destination pairs. A key outcome of the study was the conceptualization of green-field corridors which were found to be a more efficient alternative compared to brownfield expansion of existing corridors. Multiple studies were conducted to evaluate the cost of development, user cost and vehicle operating cost and ascertain that the greenfield corridors were more attractive compared to brownfield expansion.

Through the study, the advantages of greenfield corridors were enumerated by which it was found that instead of developing 2,144 km of brownfield expansion along three existing routes for the next 20 years, a single greenfield access-controlled corridor of 844 km could be planned to cater to the traffic for the next 20 years.

The advantages of greenfield corridors compared to brownfield projects are realized through

  • Crow-flight alignments leading to reduction in travel distance
  • Lower CO2 emissions and fuel consumption through reduced travel distance and superior road specifications
  • Lower cost of land acquisition (per Ha basis)
  • Economic impetus to hinterlands of the country through improved connectivity
  • Fast track progress of construction due to lack of obstruction of construction from existing traffic

India is on massive road-building spree, wherein the target is to achieve a construction rate of 60 km per day and this ambition is much talked and debated upon today. How much of this is achieved today and where do you see the sector progressing towards in this scenario?
We have made highest ever record of per day highway construction in India. Pace of highway construction increased from 12 km per day in 2014-15 to 37 km per day in 2020-21which is more than 3 times.  About 4,410 km NHs constructed in 2014-15 while about 13,327 km in 2020-21. The pace of construction for 2021-22 was 28 km/day, which was lower than the target due to difficulties faced in demobilizing and then remobilizing the resources for construction, which had been affected by COVID during peak construction period. Even the financial environment was challenging post the subsequent COVID waves. The Ministry shall ensure that the momentum of the road development picks up. The target for construction in FY22-23 has been set as 12,200 km (~33 km/ day) and we are aspiring to surpass last year’s achievement and reach this year’s target. We have adopted a comprehensive strategy for the development of road infrastructure.  The roads are being developed through EPC, HAM, and BOT. The sources of funding have also been diversified to include - cess, budgetary allocation, long-term debt, and proceeds from monetization. This allows NHAI to tap appropriate sources of funding based on the requirement. NHAI has also been able to take advantage of liquidity in the banking system to raise debt at very attractive rates. With the large inventory of completed roads and those that will be returning to NHAI from BOT concessions, NHAI is monetizing road assets as a major source of funding to pare down debt as well as develop new roads. Technical and financial criteria have been relaxed to enhanced ease of doing business.  It has been ensured that 90% of the land shall be made available before the appointed date for the project. A Minister level Group of Infrastructure has been created under my Chairmanship to resolve approval or clearance issues related to environment and forest, railways defence and civil aviation. We are also allowing 100% FDI in the road sector. Land acquisition is a key function of the highway development and the ministry has mandated integrated digital platforms to streamline and accelerate the pace of land acquisition.  NHAI has implemented a Stuck Projects policy and is resolving pending disputes on fast track through one-time settlement process. MoRTH is developing Greenfield Expressways and Access-controlled corridors in the country under Bharatmala Pariyojana. About 65,000 km of highway network is being developed with minimum configuration of divided 4 lane highways. We targeted to have National Highway Network of 2 lakh km in the country by 2025. Our vision is to develop safe, efficient and sustainable road infrastructure for accelerating regional connectivity and inclusive socio-economic growth.

Sir, your journey from Maharashtra’s PWD Minister to now the Union Minister for Roads, Transport and Highways has delivered us numerous standout projects and initiatives that are scaling up India’s outlook. Could you share with us about the driving factors that makes you envision such one-of-its-kind initiatives?
I believe that Politics is an instrument for socio-economic reforms. Welfare of people anderadication of poverty is at top of our agenda. I do my job and carry responsibility with full conviction and commitment. And if there is a will, there is a way. Infrastructure and road connectivity bring prosperity and socio-economic development in the region particularly in the rural, tribal and aspirational districts. We need to increase per capita income that would make inclusive growth in the real sense. I am always at forefront in adoption of new innovations, technology and materials in the construction sector. My focus is on reducing the cost of construction without compromising the quality that would ultimately save the tax money of our people. I have always emphasized on time-bound, transparent and result oriented approach. I always envision mega and unique infrastructure development which makes India proud in the World. I humbly accept that all achievements are not just the credit of mine but the credit also to my entire team of engineers, officers, contractors and concerned stakeholders accompanied in my journey as Minister. 

 




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