Terming the recent budget a "development-oriented" exercise, Union Road Transport and Highways Secretary Giridhar Aramane on Sunday said the pace of road construction will be further increased to achieve the target of expansion of national highways in the next fiscal.
In the ongoing fiscal so far, he said, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) have so far constructed 7,500 km of national highways, and in the remaining two months, at least 2,500 km of highway construction is expected.
In an interview with PTI, Aramane said, "The Budget for 2022-2 is development-oriented. The large focus on infrastructure development is going to help the country reap the dividends in the coming decades."
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman while presenting the Budget for 2022-23 had said national highways will be expanded by 25,000 kilometres (km) during 2022-23.
The Secretary said the target of construction of 25,000 km of national highways in the next fiscal year will be met under the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan, under which the government will have to provide connectivity to all the economic nodes in the country.
"We will increase the pace of highways construction. Existing ones will be made into bigger ones, stronger ones; and new ones to reach these economic nodes. So, together, it will be 25,000 km," he explained.
According to the Economic Survey, there has been a consistent increase in the construction of national highways/roads since 2013-14, with 13,327 km constructed in 2020-21 as compared to 10,237 km in 2019-20.
The Road Transport and Highways Ministry had targeted to construct 12,000 km of national highways in the current fiscal. Aramane said infrastructure development has been made cheaper by pumping in resources and the large focus on PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan is going to help faster execution of the infrastructure projects.
He pointed out that while there are 810 economic nodes, out of the 730 are already connected in one way or the other.
"We need to provide multiple connectivities to economic centres, such as Mumbai, or Nasik or Delhi or Varanasi and places where a large number of commuters are there, large segments of goods, transport originate, and find its destination," Aramane said.
Replying to a question on the rising debt of NHAI, which is primarily responsible for the development of national highways and expressways across the country, he said the main feature of the Budget 2022-23 is extraordinary allocations to the infrastructure sector.
"In fact, the road transport and highways ministry has been given a very big sum of Rs 1.99 lakh crore for construction of highways and for improvement of the transport sector," the Secretary noted.
"So that will take off some debt servicing burden from NHAI," Aramane added.
In addition, he pointed out that the roads, which NHAI is constructing, will give the toll revenue in the years to come.
"Expressways, economic corridors will definitely result in higher toll revenue inflow to the Government of India, which will ensure that the NHAI's status as premier infrastructure building agency in the country will remain intact," Aramane emphasised.
The Finance Minister has proposed to allocate Rs 1.99 lakh crore for the road transport and highways ministry. Of this, Rs 1.34 lakh crore will be allocated to NHAI.
Responding to a query on the slowing down of highways construction in the current fiscal, he said the April-June period was a difficult time for the entire country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and eventually, the work in the road ministry also suffered.
"... some of our engineers were also the victims of Covid-19. Six of them passed away unfortunately during the pandemic," he said, adding despite that the Centre's main highway building agencies (NHAI and NHIDCL) tried to keep up the pace of the construction."
While the heavy monsoon and prolonged monsoon during August-September created hindrance, he said despite that, "We have crossed 7,500 km (national highways construction) mark as on today, so in remaining two months, I hope to achieve at least 2,500 km (highways)."
On the road ministry's asset monetisation drive, Aramane said the ministry has already done monetisation of road assets worth Rs 10,000 crore in the current fiscal. "I hope to get a few more (road) assets monetised. in the remaining two months," he said.
Under the government's ambitious national asset monetisation plan, road assets worth Rs 1.60 lakh crore will be monetised over four years till Financial Year 2025.