India’s Road Construction Sector Issues and Challenges

There are many challenges being faced by the highway sector such as ensuring availability of construction materials and machinery, timely completion of projects, availability of trained human resources, and addressing concerns on road congestions and safety.

Prof. Satish Chandra, Director, CSIR-CRRI, New Delhi
India has the second-largest road network in the world, spanning 5.89 million kilometres. It transports 64.5% of all goods in the country and caters to almost 90% of total passenger traffic.

Road transportation has gradually increased over the years with improvement in connectivity between cities, towns, and villages. Highway construction increased at 17% CAGR between 2016 - 2021. Despite the pandemic lockdown, 13,298 km of highways were constructed during FY 2020-21. The Government of India has allocated ₹111 lakh crore (US$ 1.4 trillion) under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) for 2019-25. The roads sector is likely to get 18% capital expenditure out of this allocation. In spite of all these initiatives, almost 55% of our National Highways network is only two-lane wide and 24% is four lanes wide, so there is a huge demand for expansion and widening of roads.

About 200,000 km of national highways is expected to be completed by 2022. In addition to construction of national highways, state governments are also strengthening their road network. Maharashtra, for example allocated ₹18 billion during FY 2020 for the maintenance of its roads. For the development of roads in rural and backward areas, ₹15,000 crores was announced in the Union Budget 2021 to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Many other projects like Bharat Mala, connectivity of major ports, special road development program for the North-East region, road development projects in left wing affected areas, are also in progress.

Availability of Construction Materials
There will be a huge requirement of construction materials to meet the targets of infrastructure development and the country cannot afford to continue with the current practices of using virgin materials for the construction and maintenance of roads.

Aggregates are also required for infrastructure projects like housing, power, dams, etc. Many states are facing the problem of non-availability of natural aggregates and are transporting them from neighboring states. This has increased the cost of construction exorbitantly, which demands a paradigm shift in the thinking of road construction agencies.

There is a wide variety of industrial waste available in different parts of the country and laboratory studies (even field trials in some cases) have shown that they can successfully be used in the different layers of a pavement without compromising the quality and durability. Industries that are facing the problem of their disposal are willing to provide the waste materials free of cost.

Mixing of copper slag with flyashMixing of copper slag with flyash

Use of processed Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and waste plastic have also been successfully demonstrated. Engineers, consultants and pavement designers must consider the use of these waste materials at the time of preparing the detailed project report (DPR).

Highway professionals are now determining pavement rehabilitation techniques based on cost, performance, and environmental sustainability, and in-situ recycling processes offer the best alternative to optimize these benefits. With strict attention paid to pre-engineering, mix design formulation, construction, and quality control, pavements constructed using these techniques offer the ability to decrease life-cycle costs and environmental impact.

Recycling can be in-place or in-plant; it may be hot recycling or cold recycling. In all these cases, the endeavor is to use Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement (RAP) and reduce the requirement of natural aggregates and bituminous binder. Several projects of recycling have now been executed in India, but the pace is still very slow.

CSIR-Central Road Research Institute (CSIR-CRRI) has recommended recycling of pavement in several projects of rehabilitation and upgradation. The projects of NH-31 and NH-2 are typical examples where cold in-place recycling was used to rehabilitate the pavements. The most significant contribution of in-situ recycling is substantial reduction in transportation of materials as well as reduction in requirement of fresh aggregate and bitumen. The required DBM thickness on NH-31, for example, as per conventional method of design was 135 mm, but when the existing pavement crust was reused/recycled as BSM layer, the requirement of fresh DBM was reduced to 90 mm. This is a huge saving when the entire project length is considered.

Cold in-place Recycling on NH-31Cold in-place Recycling on NH-31

Availability of Trained Manpower
The 2018 Turner and Townsend International Construction market survey reported that labor shortages are becoming an increasingly common feature of global construction. Only three cities around the world were said to have had a ‘construction skills surplus’ in 2018: Houston, US, Muscat, Oman, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Of the survey respondents, 67% said that skilled labour shortages in the construction industry had a major or large impact on the delivery of construction projects.

The supply of skilled and unskilled manpower for the construction sector (including real estate) is falling short by an estimated 10 million. Causes for manpower shortage are multitude – one of them being inadequate training due to lack of specialized courses, standardized curriculums, and professional faculty. The All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has also validated the fact that of a total workforce of about 440 million in the country, only about 12.5% has received some kind of formal/informal vocational training or education. The quality of authority engineers employed by the NHAI in its projects is also a big concern. India is currently facing an annual paucity of over 10 lakh project management professionals.

The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has taken the initiative for skill development of workmen in the highway construction sector under Recognized Prior Learning (RPL) in projects of ₹100 cr. and above through authorized Training Providers in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. As per the scheme, a dedicated fund of 0.1% of civil construction cost has been allocated for Skill Development. It has been made mandatory for every contractor awarded a highway contract, to train at least ten persons for every one crore spent on the project. Under this scheme, training and assessment fees are paid completely by the Government. The scheme also has a provision of payment of stipend to the trainees to compensate for wage loss during the training period. The stipend is directly transferred to Aadhar-linked bank accounts of the trainees without any mediators or commission.

Road Safety and Traffic Congestion
India has experienced a tremendous increase in the number of registered vehicles from about 0.3 million in 1951 to about 300 million in 2019 (1000 times increase). The road length during this period has increased from around 40,000 km to 5.89 million kilometers (147 times increase). The growth rate of vehicle population is much higher than the growth rate of road network. This mismatch between the demand and supply has resulted in congestion and lack of safety on our roads.

Road Crashes cost 3-5% of GDPRoad Crashes cost 3-5% of GDP

India has just one percent of total vehicle population in the world, but accounts for almost 11 percent of road crashes and fatalities. Around 148,000 persons died in road crashes in the year 2020. The cost of road crashes is around 3-5 percent of our GDP. Among the vehicle categories, two wheelers accounted for the highest share of road accidents (33.8 percent), followed by cars, jeeps and taxis (23.6 percent), trucks, tempos, tractors and other articulated vehicles (21.0 percent), buses (7.8 percent), auto-rickshaws (6.5 percent), and other motor vehicles (2.8 percent). Speeding on highways is one of the major factors for road crashes.

We are designing and constructing world-class highways but are not able to inculcate road appropriate behavior among road users. Our National Highways, which comprise 2.03 percent of the total road network, account for a disproportionate share of 35.7 percent of deaths (3) in 2019, pointing to need for improved enforcement and correctives on the National Highways. State Highways, which account for 3.01% of the road length, accounted for 24.8 percent of deaths.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been taking multiple initiatives including those related to vehicular and road engineering as well as educational measures for raising awareness in the field of Road Safety, but the responsibility lies with all of us.

Another by-product of the high population of vehicles on Indian roads is the traffic congestion in every national highway and in every city. The traffic stream speed during peak time in Delhi, for example, is 12-15 km/hr. According to a study conducted by a global consultancy firm in 2018, traffic congestion during peak hours in four major cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, costs the economy around ₹1.47 lakh crore annually. You can imagine the total loss when all the major cities of India are considered. Rampant construction of flyovers in cities has not reduced the congestion. The solution lies in providing adequate and efficient public transport systems in all the cities.

  •, accessed on August 7, 2021
  • IRC: 120 (2015), Recommended Practice for Recycling of Bituminous Pavements, Indian Road Congress, India
  • Road Accidents in India – 2019, MoRTH data book
  • Times of India newspaper of 26.4.2018
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