Roads and Highways Industry Outlook

Chief Economist, Infomerics Ratings
Dr. Manoranjan Sharma, Chief Economist, Infomerics Ratings, discusses the various aspects of the Roads and Highways industry, including Budget Allocations and Expenditures, Institutional Initiatives, Challenges in Land Acquisition, E-tolling, Policy Support, Qualitative Reforms in Project Reports, and Promoting Growth of the Private Sector.

The infrastructure sector is the prime mover of the economy which contributes to faster economic growth and development. Road transport forms an integral part of the infrastructure system. In India, road transport is the dominant mode of transport, both in terms of traffic share and contribution to the national economy.

Since road transport plays a key role in promoting equitable socio-economic development across regions of the country, building a cost- effective and indigenous road network has been the priority of the government. In this regard, the Bharatmala Pariyojana, Parvatmala scheme and Sagarmala Programme initiated by the government hold immense potential to boost growth of the transportation sector.

The infrastructure sector

Investing in roads and highways is crucial as it contributes to the movement of people and goods from one place to another, and thereby also enhances the country’s economic growth and development. It is therefore a significant factor in the country’s transition from a developing nation to a developed one.

India with about 66.71 lakh kms has the second largest road network in the world; this comprises National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, Major District Roads, Other District Roads, and Village Roads (Table 1).

The infrastructure sector

Budget Allocations and Expenditures

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has been allocated ₹2,78,000 crores in the Interim Budget 2024-2025, which is higher than the revised estimates for 2023-2024. In budget 2023-2024, the government had allocated ₹2,70,434.71 crores to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which is higher than the revised estimates in 2022-2023. In the previous budget allocation ₹1,99,107.71 crore had been allocated to the Ministry.

Length of 4 lane plus National Highway (NH) network including High Speed Corridors has increased by more than 250% from about 18,371 km in March, 2014 to about 46,179 km so far. Length of less than 2 Lane NHs has decreased from about 27,517 km in March, 2014 to about 14,870 km which is now only about 10% of the NH network.

The infrastructure sector

National Highways

The pace of construction of National Highways rose consistently between 2014-15 and 2023-24 due to the sustained thrust on corridor-based national highway developments. MoRTH) constructed 5248 km of National Highways (provisional figures). (Figure 1)

Institutional Initiatives

Green Highways Policy 2015

Chief Economist, Infomerics RatingsSource: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1993425
This was adopted to develop eco-friendly National Highways with participation by the community, farmers, NGOs, private sector, institutions, government agencies, and the Forest Department for the country’s economic growth and development.

The contracts for developing green highways will be given to NGOs, agencies, private companies, and government organizations. These stakeholders will be responsible for the survival and health of the trees, which will be monitored by a Monitoring Agency on a regular basis by carrying out site visits for field verification to check survival, growth and size of plantation and its maintenance. A performance audit of the executing agencies will be regularly conducted by the Agency on an annual basis and new contracts will be awarded to agencies based on this audit.

Objectives of the Policy

  • Evolve a policy framework for plantation along National Highways.
  • Reduce the impact of air pollution and dust by planting trees and shrubs along National Highways.
  • Provide shade along the roads.
  • Reduce impact of noise caused by vehicles.
  • Arrest soil erosion on embankment slopes.
  • Prevent glare from headlights of vehicles.
  • Moderate effect of wind and radiation.
  • Create employment opportunities for local people.
The aim of the Policy is to strike a balance between highways development and environmental protection, and also help in providing employment to 5 lakh people in the rural areas.

Bharatmala Pariyojana

Launched under the Ministry of Roads Transport and Highways with the primary focus of optimizing the efficiency of movement of goods and people across the country, Bharatmala Pariyojana envisions development of about 26,000 km length of Economic Corridors, which, along with Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) and North-South and East-West (NS-EW) Corridors, are expected to carry most of the freight traffic on roads.

Also, about 8000 km of Inter- corridors and about 7500 km of feeder routes have been identified for improving the effectiveness of Economic Corridors, GQ, and NS-EW Corridors. The programme envisions development of ring roads, bypasses, and elevated corridors to decongest the traffic passing through cities and enhance logistic efficiency.

Reasons for setting up the programme

  • Inadequate optimization of National Highway network & Road network due to resource constraints and absence of a national plan.
  • Lack of integrated planning in the connectivity of major corridors and ports with hinterland.
  • Due to the presence of congestion points with multiple points of local congestion present even on already developed corridors.
  • Lack of accident response infrastructure.

Features of the programme

The programme focuses on enhancing the effectiveness of the already built infrastructure, multi-modal integration, bridging infrastructure gaps for seamless movement, and integrating National and Economic Corridors. 6 key features of the programme:
  • Economic Corridors: Integrating the economic corridors facilitates larger connectedness between economically important production and consumption centers.
  • Inter-corridor and feeder routes: This would ensure first mile and last mile connectivity.
  • National Corridor Efficiency Improvement: Through this, the greater actionable goal is to undertake lane expansion and decongestion of existing National Corridors.
  • Border and International connectivity roads: Better border road infrastructure would ensure greater maneuverability, while also boosting trade with neighboring countries.
  • Coastal and Port connectivity roads: Port-led economic development is further boosted through connectivity to coastal areas, encouraging both tourism and industrial development.
  • Greenfield Expressways: Expressways that have higher traffic configuration and choke points would benefit from greenfield expressways.
Some of the major projects completed under the Bharatmala Pariyojana are the Eastern Peripheral Expressway, Delhi-Meerut Expressway, Narmada Bridge, Chenani-Nashri Tunnel, and the Dhaula-Sadia Bridge. Uttar Pradesh, home to the largest population in the country, has been one of the core beneficiaries of Bharatmala Pariyojana. From National Highways to Expressways, the state is setting new standards in road connectivity.

Implementation of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana in Uttar Pradesh

There has been emphasis on building rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gam Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), besides initiating national and state highway projects. A total number of 20,540 road works have been cleared in Uttar Pradesh and 18,565 road works have been completed under PMGSY, as of December 09, 2021. The scheme was launched as a one-time special intervention, with the objective to provide rural connectivity, by way of a single all-weather road, to the eligible unconnected habitations of designated population size in the core network, for uplifting the socio- economic condition of the rural population. The primary objective of the scheme was to provide all-weather road connectivity to eligible unconnected habitations.

Key highlights of the report:

  • India with about 66.71 lakh km has the second largest road network in the world, this comprises National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, Major District Roads, Other District Roads, and Village Roads
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been allocated Rs 278000 crores in the Interim Budget 2024-2025, which is higher than the revised estimates for 2023-2024
  • 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is allowed under the automatic route in the road and highways sector, subject to applicable laws and regulation
  • India’s Gati Shakti program has consolidated a list of 81 high impact projects, out of which road infrastructure projects were the top priority.
  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has firmed up a draft policy on the use of inert waste material that does not disintegrate naturally and has sought public comments.
  • The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) under the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for a period of three years to develop and report a Green Cover Index for the extensive network of National Highways in India.
  • To improve the comfort and convenience of the Highway users, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has planned the development of state-of-the-art Wayside Amenities (WSA) at about every 40 kms along the National Highways on PPP mode.
  • The portfolio consists of five road stretches totalling 230 kilometres across India, and is likely to fetch an enterprise value of $1-1.2 billion.
  • In India, average travel speed on highways is a paltry 47 kmph. In US, it is over 100 kmph, in China, it is 90 kmph
  • Construction works on National Highways sometimes fall behind schedule due to various reasons like delay in land acquisition, delay in fulfilment of Government’s condition precedent like various clearances, utility shifting, delays on the part of Contractors/Concessionaire including cash flow issues

Salient features of PMGSY

  • Standards and specifications as per Indian Road Congress (IRC) and Rural Roads Manual; decentralized and evidence-based planning.
  • Dedicated implementation mechanism at central, state and district level, scrutiny of Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) at multiple levels.
  • Three-tier quality management system, strong IT support for monitoring and implementing the programme, unbroken flow of funds, inbuilt mechanism for consultation with public representatives at planning, selection of roads, and monitoring.

Land Acquisition Made Transparent and Quick

Chief Economist, Infomerics RatingsSource: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1993425
For the commencement and completion of construction of National Highways, land acquisition is critical, which begins once the alignment plan and land acquisition plan for a specific project, are approved. However, in many cases, land acquisition became a major bottleneck on account of slow procedures and delay in issuance of notifications. The whole land acquisition process was time consuming and lacked transparency, leading to unforeseen delays, which involved drafting and publication of multiple notifications, each of which would pass through several authorities for approval before its final publication.

Therefore, the need of the hour was workflow-based automation of the current Land Acquisition process for National Highway (NH) projects. The solution was the development and operationalization of a comprehensive web-based portal.

Digital Initiative: Bhoomi Rashi has been designed as a single point platform by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for online processing of land acquisition notifications to accelerate highway infrastructure development projects in India. The portal was made operational on 1st April 2018. It will fast track the process of land acquisition and result in greater benefits for all stakeholders.

This portal would enhance the efficiency of the land acquisition process, ensure transparency and accountability and result in e-transfer of benefits directly to the accounts of the beneficiaries. Its benefits would be faster process completion, transparent fund transfer to the landowners and reduction of procedural errors. [i]

E-tolling

To remove traffic bottlenecks at toll plazas and ensure seamless movement of vehicles and hassle-free collection of tolls, the Government has implemented a National Electronic Toll Collection (NETC) programme. It provides for electronic collection of tolls through FASTags. The National Payment Corporation of India is the Central Clearing House (CCH).

Policy Support

  • 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is allowed under the automatic route in the road and highways sector, subject to applicable laws and regulation.
  • In October 2021, the government issued a notice related to concessions under the Vehicle Scrapping Policy (effective from April 2022) to encourage vehicle owners towards discarding old vehicles that have higher fuel consumption costs.
  • Finance Bill 2019 made certain changes in the Central Roads and Infrastructure Fund Act. The Central Government will now be responsible for formulating criteria for any state road project.

Gati Shakti - National Master Plan

  • The Indian government launched the Gati Shakti-National Master Plan to help lead a holistic and integrated development of infrastructure, generating immense employment opportunities in the country.
  • The aim of the Plan is to create a digital platform that would enable 16 ministries to collaborate on integrated planning and coordinated implementation of projects. The Plan will also bring together departments such as railways, roads and highways, and others, and implementation will be done with the help of geo satellite imaging and Big Data, land, and logistics.
  • India’s Gati Shakti program has consolidated a list of 81 high impact projects, of which, road infrastructure projects were a top priority. The major highway projects include the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway (1350 km), Amritsar-Jamnagar Expressway (1257 km), and Saharanpur-Dehradun Expressway (210 km). The focus of this program is faster approval process through the Gati Shakti portal and to digitalize the approval process completely.
Based on PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan, India has planned around 8890 km of roads, 27,000 km of railway tracks, and 920 km of petroleum and natural gas pipelines. The time taken by MoRTH to prepare the detailed project report (DPR) is now reduced to about 15 days from the earlier six months.

Going Green

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has firmed up a draft policy on the use of inert waste material that does not disintegrate naturally and has also sought public comments on this policy.

The Policy is aimed at resolving the two problems of disposal of urban solid waste and rising requirement of earth or soil for construction of embankments (as highway construction picks up pace).

The government has now decided to dovetail highways construction with Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0. According to the draft guidelines, all projects, whether in the bidding stage or DPR, will be eligible to use inert material and an enabling provision may be made mandating use of inert soil in the construction of embankments of highways or roads, wherever it is provided on site by the local bodies.

The disposal of solid waste is a major environmental challenge in urban areas. The first pilot project was carried out in Delhi-NCR on urban extension road and DND Sohnaspur of the Delhi–Mumbai Expressway, and the second pilot project was conducted on the Ahmedabad- Dholera Expressway. Inert material, a major component of municipal solid waste, was used to make embankments in both these projects.

Green Cover Index

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has signed a MoU with the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) under the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for a period of three years to develop and report a Green Cover Index for the extensive network of National Highways in India. The prioritization of greening Highway Corridors has been a focal point for MoRTH and NHAI since the initiation of the Green Highways Policy in 2015.

Way Side Amenities

To improve the comfort and convenience of highway users, MoRTH has planned the development of state-of-the-art Wayside Amenities (WSA) at about every 40 kms along the National Highways on PPP mode. Some of the mandatory facilities being developed at each WSA are fuel stations, EV charging stations, food court/ restaurants, dhabas, convenience stores, clean toilets, safe drinking water, first aid / medical room, including childcare room, dedicated area for promoting local artisans, car/bus/truck parking, drone landing facilities / helipad etc.

Clutch of Funds in Race for NIIF’S $1.2 Billion Roads Portfolio

The portfolio of the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund Limited (NIIFL), that maintains infrastructure investments funds for international and Indian investors, has five road stretches totaling 230 kms across India, and likely to fetch an enterprise value of $1-1.2 billion.

Global infrastructure majors signing the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) include Spanish Company Abertis, French road developer VINCI Highways. PE fund KKR, and two Canadian funds viz. CDPQ, and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). The NDA has also been signed by the Edelweiss-owned road operator Sekura Roads.

This is the largest road portfolio available in the market. Major assets within this portfolio include two highways situated in Jammu & Kashmir, the 16.3-km Qazigund Banihal Expressway, and the 64.5-km Jammu Udhampur Highway.

Road Ministry to seek Technical Help from IITs

MoRTH will seek expert technical help and guidance from professors at IITs on new areas of development as well as scientific solutions to problems arising in highway construction and maintenance. The Ministry has signed a MoU with IIT-Roorkee, IIT-BHU, IIT Madras, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Anantpur, to appoint chair professors in these institutes.

Faster Road Travel Ahead

In India, the average travel speed on highways is a paltry 47 kmph. In US, it is over 100 kmph, while in China it is 90 kmph. Plans are afoot to push this figure up to 85 kmph on the National Highway (NH) network. MoRTH plans to construct and expand approximately 41,000 km of NHs, including 15,000 km of high-speed, access-controlled corridors, by FY 2031-32. Two critical aspects of the plan are: decongesting highways in and around cities; and building high-speed corridors (HSCs). The increased speeds on NHs could bring down logistics cost to 9-10% of GDP from 13-14%, other than making travel less time consuming.

Qualitative Reforms in Project Reports

The Union Road Transport and Highways minister Nitin Gadkari pitched for qualitative reforms in the detailed project reports (DPRs) being prepared for national highway projects, saying poor quality of DPRs results in accidents and deaths on highways every year.

Increasing E–Mobility on Highways

The government is working on a plan to build electric vehicle–ready highways on the Golden Quadrilateral in an effort to reduce fuel consumption and vehicular emissions through electrification of intercity public transport. It is planned over the next seven years to accelerate adoption of e-mobility and support deployment of e-buses across the country. The e-highways will be powered by green energy-enabled charging infrastructure, which will encourage more people to buy electric cars.

Reviving the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model

Speaking at a conference organized by MoRTH for all the stakeholders in the Roads & Highways sector, Shri Nitin Gadkari had said, “We are committed to revive the BOT model and make it investment-friendly and attractive for private partnerships. This will not only strengthen the road infrastructure but will have a ripple effect that will further strengthen the country’s economy, increase employment opportunities, and reduce logistics cost.”

Ropeway Projects identified under Parvatmala Pariyojana

At the Ropeway: Symposium-cum-Exhibition held in New Delhi on January 23rd, 2024, Shri Nitin Gadkari said more than 200 projects at a cost of ₹1.25 lakh crore have been identified for development in the coming five years under the National Ropeways Development Program “Parvatmala Pariyojana”.

He said that our foremost priority should be to make ropeways economically viable by bringing down the overall project cost and encourage Public Private Partnership to develop the ropeway network in the country. And apart from facilitating tourism in hilly areas, ropeways offer huge potential in urban public transport as well. The focus should be on developing indigenous and cost-efficient solutions without comprising safety. Ropeways hold immense potential to positively impact tourism and job creation in the country.

He also said that we need to standardize the existing policies and codes, and transform the Ropeway industry by encouraging local manufacture of Ropeway Components under the Government’s “Make in India” initiative. He informed that 60% construction support is provided under Hybrid Annuity Mode (HAM for Ropeways) as compared to 40% support provided under National Highways to attract more private players for development of ropeways under Parvatmala Pariyojana.

At the event, an MoU was signed by NHLML and IIT Roorkee for creating a center of excellence for ropeways and other mobility systems.

Collaboration of NHAI with Geological Survey of India

NHAI signed a MoU with GSI on 31st January, 2024 to provide services to NHAI for site specific geotechnical consultancy and assist in vetting of Detailed Project Reports (DPR). The MoU was signed in the presence of NHAI Chairman Shri Santosh Kumar Yadav and Dr. Saibal Ghosh, Deputy Director General, GSI.

As per the agreement, GSI will provide site specific geotechnical consultancy services related to preparation of geological map of the area for providing detailed geological features, slope stability study of the road, identification of geologically weak zones at various sites/stretches of National Highways, suggestions on site specific remedial measures, 3D geological logging of tunnels in projects, and suggestions on necessary/relevant stabilization measures. GSI will also undertake detailed analysis of DPRs prepared by NHAI consultants.

This collaboration between two Government organizations to share best practices will give an impetus to quality construction of National Highways. It will not only help in easier operations and maintenance of highways but also provide smooth and seamless travel experience to highway users.

NHAI’s Total Asset Monetization Program

NHAI has raised the highest ever concession value of ₹15,624.90 crore through ‘InvIT Round-3’. NHAI is adopting three modes for monetizing viz. Toll Operate Transfer (TOT), InvIT, and Securitization. During this financial year, NHAI has already awarded four TOT Bundles and monetized value of ₹15,968 crore.

Industry Risks and Challenges

The development of roads has been constrained, inter-alia, by delays in acquisition of land; delayed permissions for railway over bridge; problems in rehabilitation and resettlement; non-availability of state support agreement; cost and time overruns resulting in delays in COD; delays in getting environment / forest department clearances; delay in shifting utilities like high tension electric lines and towers, etc; change in plan for pedestrian crossings, agriculture vehicle underpasses, etc.

In 2022, India witnessed a 9.4% increase in fatalities due to road accidents either due to reckless driving, overspeeding, drunken driving, or non-compliance with traffic regulations.

According to the report on Road Accidents in India 2022, 151,000 (32.9%) of the total road accidents took place on the National Highways, including expressways, 106,000 (23.1%) on state highways, and the remaining 202,000 (43.9%) on other roads. Shri Nitin Gadkari has set a target to reduce the number of accidents and resultant deaths by half by 2024.

The infrastructure sectorSource: https://morth.nic.in/sites/default/files/RA_2022_30_Oct.pdf

Delay in Road Projects

Construction work on National Highways sometimes falls behind schedule due to delays in land acquisition, delays in fulfilment of Government’s condition precedents like environment clearance, utility shifting, delays on the part of contractors/concessionaire, cash flow issues etc.

As on August 1st, 2023, according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, nearly half of the country’s 1646 infrastructure projects, ranging from roads to railways to airports, are delayed by an average of 37 months, and 388 projects reported a combined cost escalation of over ₹ 4.65 lakh crores, till July 2023. The delay was attributed to hurdles in land acquisition, forest or environmental clearance, lack of infrastructure support and linkages, delays in supply of equipment, fund constraints, and geological challenges.

Cost Overrun of Projects

The cost overruns of infrastructure projects rose slightly to 17.5% in November compared to a nearly four-year low of 17.4% achieved in October even as the number of projects running behind schedule declined to 46.1% from 46.6% as reported in the official data.

According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), that tracks infrastructure projects worth ₹150 crore and above, the average time overrun of these projects also improved last month. In the list, the number of central government projects rose to 1831 in November from 1788 in the previous month as it added 58 new projects last month, most of which belonged to the road sector.

Among the significant reasons for delays, the government counts delays in land acquisition, environmental clearances, lack of infrastructure support and linkages, and tie-ups for project financing.

The infrastructure sector

Way Forward

Promoting Bank Lending

  • Use of corporate and public savings with appropriate instruments and pension funds.
  • Tax free infrastructure bonds issued by banks.
  • SLR and CRR exemption to infrastructure bonds.
  • Categorizing infra advances as part of sector lending.
  • Allowing banks to raise foreign currency bonds for infra lending.
  • Deepening of secondary market.
Sustainable road infrastructure develop- ment necessitates full-cost recovery, transparent, targeted, and measurable subsidy, cost savings through energy efficiency, reduction of leakages, manpower rationalization, full autonomy to local bodies to fix realistic tariffs, operation of escrow account, etc.

Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model

Private infrastructure investment remains crucial but public and government infrastructure funds remain, by far, the largest source of road financing. All these sources of funding must be maximized to properly address road financing needs; thus, the relevance of public-private partnerships in spending for both new investments and operations and maintenance on existing roads.

Three lessons of PPP model

  • Carefully gauge the “readiness for implementation” to avoid initial start-up delays and ensure appropriateness.
  • Regular monitoring.
  • Involve project beneficiaries from inception.
Success in road financing requires synchronised action from government, private sector, industry, finance, banks, technology institutions, users, and stakeholders.

Promoting Growth of Private Sector

Meeting road needs requires massive investment and greater efficiency to ensure low costs and good quality service. Hence, a significantly increased role of banks and financial institutions (FIs) is imperative to meet emerging challenges. A more holistic approach in streamlining road infrastructure with substantial private sector financing in a competitive environment to improve quality and enhance coverage is needed.

The sustainability of urban road infrastructure necessitates full-cost recovery, transparent, targeted, and measurable subsidy, if necessary, cost savings through energy efficiency, reduction of leakages, manpower rationalization, full autonomy to local bodies to determine realistic tariffs, operation of escrow account, etc.
NBM&CW - JUNE 2024
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