2nd April, 2003


Dinkar Shukla*

Kilometre by kilometre, India is building what can aptly be called its national pride. This is by way of taking in hand the largest-ever highway project seeking to connect the four corners of the country as well as the four metropolitan cities with world class roads and uninterrupted traffic flow. Under this ambitious National Highway Development Project (NHDP), work is proceeding apace on 4/6 laning of approximately 14,850 km road network through the length and breadth of the country.

The Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visionary project, the NHDP’s first phase includes the Golden Quadrilateral which seeks to connect the metro cities of Delhi-Mumbai-Chennai-Kolkata-Delhi. Work on the second phase relating to the creation of a North-South corridor connecting Srinagar with Kanyakumari and on the East-West corridor linking Silchar with Porbandar is also underway simultaneously.

Realising that road transport has remained under-utilised, Shri Vajpayee visualized far-reaching reforms in this sector. The result is this high profile highway project. The Prime Minister hopes that upon its completion the project will place India on the fast lane to socio-economic development. He had laid the foundation stone of the project on January 6, 1999. Work on the two phases is at various stages and is officially stated to be going on satisfactorily. The National Highways Authority of India, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Road Transport and highways, is executing the project. The originally stipulated cost of the project is Rs. 54,000 crore.

Under Golden Quadrilateral, so nicknamed because of its geographical contours, manifested in the linking of the metros, a total of 5,850 km of road length is to be built. Since its inception the project is racing towards its completion in five years. The corridor project envisaging a 7,300 km road length is to be completed by the end of 2007.

The cost break-up of the quadrilateral and the corridor projects is envisaged at Rs. 24,000 and Rs. 30,000 crore respectively. Finding resources of such magnitude was indeed a challenge. But, through a landmark decision the Union Government imposed a nominal cess of rupee one per litre on petrol and diesel. The fund so collected is being put aside in a non-lapsable Central Road Fund (CRF). An equal sum will be provided by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Rs. 10,000 crore will come from market borrowings and the remaining Rs. 4,000 crore from the private sector. It is noteworthy that such huge funds are being mobilized for the first time for road development in the country.

Apart from the existing world-class roads, the project’s focus is on enhanced safety, better riding surface and road geometry, traffic management and noticeable signages. The other features are divided carriageways and service roads, grade separators, over-bridges and underpasses for uninterrupted traffic flow, bypasses and wayside amenities along with ambulances and cranes. According to a World Bank study, this will result in an annual saving of about Rs. 8,000 crore at 1999 prices on the Golden Quadrilateral alone. It is to be noted that Indian firms are competing successfully and have bagged a majority of contracts.

To encourage the country’s road construction industry, the Central Government has offered many concessions and incentives to them. They include income tax exemption for 10 years from earnings from the Project and total customs duty exemption on road building equipment not being produced in the country. In the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme, grants up to 40 per cent has been permitted.

In addition, bonds floated by the National Highways Authority of India, which is charged with the execution of the project, have been exempted from capital gains. Attractive incentives have also been announced for time-bound completion of work by the participating companies. To assure quality, however, they have to give a five-year guarantee for the executed work.

As of today, over 40 per cent of Indian roads are unsurfaced Seen against the backdrop of an explosion in vehicular traffic there is a clear strain on the road network. That our national highways, which constitute barely two per cent of the total network, carry about 40 per cent of the total traffic is ample illustration of the tremendous pressure on this crucial infrastructure.

In a country where 43 per cent reads are unsurfaced and just 25 per cent motorable, the benefits of such a project are incalculable. Imagine that slow movement of commercial vehicles results in an annual loss of Rs. 30,000 crore. Poor maintenance of the national highways causes a huge wear and tear and consequent obstruction in traffic flow. In this backdrop the initiative taken by the Government in the road transport sector to overhaul the system generates high hopes.


In plain terms, the initiative will result in colossal economic and social gains. It will give a big push to the road construction industry, lead to a huge growth in cement and steel demands, 40 lakh and three lakh metric tonnes annual requirement, boost trade and business, result in savings in vehicle operating costs and ensure faster, comfortable, smoother and safer road journeys. Most importantly, it will generate huge employment opportunities. It is estimated that an average of 40 persons are engaged per day per km length, creating 73 million mandays in a year. It will also mean a big boost to the rural economy by way of providing direct and faster access from the hinterland to the main marketing centers in the metros and other towns.

The NHDP is India’s biggest road project since Sher Shah Suri built the Grand Trunk Road in the 16th century. Day-by-day an average of 17 km of single-length national highway and five km of 4-laned roads are being added to the network,. Whereas India built just 556 km of 4/6 lane highways in the last 50 years, the accomplishment during the 1999-2007 period would be a record 14,850 km. A special feature of this most ambitious infrastructure project is port connectivity. The major ports such as Haldia, Paradip, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Tuticorin, Kochi, Mangalore, Mormugoa and Kandla are also being connected by superfine roads.

Until recently, over 1,350 km long road networks under the Golden Quadrilateral and over 850 km under the Corridor Project have been completed. Many important portions have already been opened to traffic. Work on the remaining part of the programme is in different stages of completion. To quote the Prime Minister, when completed, the project will further integrate our great land through a network of world-class highways. This will place India on the fast lane to socio-economic development. Indeed, on the highway to prosperity! (PIB Features)

*Senior Journalist, Bhopal

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