Towards Fast Trading Highway Sector

Vijay Chhibber
Secretary Road Transport & Highway Ministry, Mr. Vijay Chhibber, outlines his ministry's important initiatives to revive highway sector and explore fresh financing options, in his interaction with S.K.Khanna.

The last few months have witnessed a strong economic revival of road sector developers' interest in road and highway sector projects following government's enabling measures to restore their confidence in road sector business. Would you please like to recapitulate some of these measures initiated by the Government?
Major policy initiatives of the Ministry in recent past contributing to faster implementation of projects and start of revival of the highways sector include:
  • Mode of delivery of projects- Ministry empowered to decide on mode of delivery of projects – PPP/EPC.
  • Increased threshold for project approval- Ministry authorized to appraise projects up to Rs.1000 crores – both for PPP and EPC mode in place of earlier Rs.500 crores.
  • Enhanced Inter-Ministerial coordination - an Infrastructure Group created under the chairmanship of Hon'ble Minister -RTH. Most issues on approvals and clearances related to Environment & Forests, Railways and Defence have been addressed.
  • Fast track dispute resolution - effective three stage mechanism made operational at NHAI.
  • Amendments to the Model Concession Agreement (MCA) – a Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary empowered to make changes in the MCA.
  • Current focus on EPC projects - immediate focus on implementation of publicly funded EPC projects bringing back confidence of developers/contractors through fund circulation.
  • Electronic Toll collection (ETC) – being implemented across all operational toll plazas of the country. "Fast tag" program was launched on 31.10.14 for Delhi- Mumbai Highway.
  • Use of innovative construction materials and technologies – technical and financial feasibility of flexible pavement using bitumen vis-a-vis rigid pavement using cement is currently under examination. Others are being encouraged.
There are reports that Road transport ministry is finding it difficult to proceed with new road and highway projects due to fund crunch and fiscal deficit targets. Would you like to put this matter into right perspective as the ministry plans to focus on long-term financial instruments like IDFs for road and highway projects? The Highways sector envisages estimated investment of $95 billion (Rs.5.7 lakh crores) in phases as per the 12th 5 year plan and around 50% of the same is proposed through private sector/external sources.

As per the recent financing plan for NHAI, to implement 20,000 km of highway projects (comprising both PPP and public funded projects) an estimated Rs.1,80,000 crore. of market borrowings would be required for 2014-15 to 2018-19 in addition to existing sources like budgetary allocations, cess, toll collections etc.

malda bfs Highway

In addition, the Ministry has requested for additional budgetary support from the Ministry of Finance for 12,500 km of identified priority projects.

Therefore, exploring fresh financing options has become imperative in the current context.

The Ministry is taking steps to address the above primarily through the following measures
  • Promoting policy initiatives in close coordination with Ministry of Finance, RBI.
  • Exploring options like use of long term sources of funds like IDFs, pension & insurance funds, encouraging long term debt re-structuring, and others.
  • Proposed amendments in the Model Concession Agreement (MCA) for Highways in PPP mode to boost lender's confidence.
  • Increase in cess on petrol/diesel to fund the increased requirement of the Roads Sector.
What is your overview of the status of performance of road projects awarded by the ministry for 2014-15? Will it be possible to achieve the target set?
Award of projects for 2014-15
  • Target – 8500 km
  • Achievement till January 2015 – 5385 km
Construction of projects for 2014-15
  • Target – 6300 km
  • Achievement till January 2015 – 3038 km
Yes, we shall be able to achieve the award targets. There may be marginal shortfall in the target for construction, which we hope to make good in the next financial year.

It is indeed interesting that there is a proposal at hand to build highway projects and auction them later to recover investment. Kindly elaborate on this concept. Also what are your views on a proposal under ministry consideration to exempt private vehicles from toll but hike fuel cess and impose fee on new vehicles to keep the loss minimum due to this exemption?
Auctioning of completed highway projects as a proposal is under examination at the ministry. Market sentiments are robust for taking up completed and operational projects which have a reduced risk perception.

As regards toll policy, various options are under examination, but no decision has been taken.

Indian Highway Sector

A word about the ministry's recent proposal for easy foreclosure of some of the languishing road projects to enable developers to walk out of the project. Will this scheme be applicable to both PPP and EPC projects?
The policy envisages that within the existing contractual framework, for languishing highway projects beyond a certain period, enabling provisions be included to facilitate amicable exit of the project developers, particularly where the Authority was unable to meet/fulfill its obligations in a timely manner.

The proposal under consideration is meant for PPP projects.

PPP road projects hold key to private sector participation in the road projects which are drying up. How to de-risk PPP model and make it a mainstream one to impart the much needed momentum to the road and highway sector?
A new Hybrid annuity model is under consideration at the Ministry wherein the private sector continues to take the construction and O&M risks as in BOT (Toll) projects but is not required to bear the traffic risk, which any way is not within the control of the private sector.

Ahmedabad Vadodara Highway

What are the latest developments with regard to ministry's proposal to go in for cemented roads, particularly ironing of developers' irritants on long-term cement supply and their pre-set price issues and developers insistence on use of cement on PPP and green field road projects?
The Ministry is encouraging use of rigid pavements wherever feasible in new projects. An IT framework has been launched to facilitate the contractors to source cement directly from the manufacturing units at reasonable prices.

Roads and highways sector is the biggest gainer from the recent land acquisition ordinance, making it easier for it to get Right of Way for executing road projects. While there is optimism about it in the road construction quarters, the road and transport ministry has sought exemptions from the rehabilitation component of the ordinance. What is the rationale behind seeking various exemptions?
Highway project being linear in nature, land acquisition is generally done in a linear pattern and requirement of rehabilitation for displaced population is generally low for the sector.

Rehabilitation requirements that may arise while developing highways are operationally difficult for the Ministry to fulfill as the Ministry does not have an existing land bank to provide the compensatory land or provisions for arranging livelihood for the displaced population.
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