Roads & Highways Summit 2018 - Players upbeat over an exemplary performance of highway sector

In the Roads and Highways Summit organized by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi recently, players including equipment manufacturers, technology providers, contractors and project clearing and implementing agencies appeared upbeat over the burgeoning road building targets and adequate fund allocations to match the laid down targets. In its entirety, they were unanimous in applauding transport ministry for its efficient, speedy and sterling performance in handling the entire process starting from projects awards, delivery and implementations. In totality, highway building in India hit a record 10,000 km in the last fiscal as against 8,231 km in FY17 and 4,260 km (11 km/day) in FY14. On an average, 28 km of highways were constructed every day in FY18, while new contracts are being awarded for achieving targets of 46 km/day.

In his inaugural address, Secretary Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Chairman NHAI, Yudhvir Singh Malik said that road building agencies including NHAI, NHIDCL, BRO and Central and States PWDs are doing a wonderful job even in the hostile and challenging situations like tough terrain and inclement weather. In the given scenario, detailed project report (DPR) is a foundation stone of any project as it decides smoothness and timelines for its execution. But currently most of the DPRs are being prepared without visiting the actual project site and instead sketched by sitting in air conditioning environs by taking the help of Google map. India still has to go a long way in the road sector and each one should play his role deftly and must understand the essence of ownership at each and every stage of planning, preparing of DPRs and project execution.

Roads Highways Summit

Striking a discontent note, he lamented that the main cause of concern in the road and highway sector is that a large number of road users are avoiding paying toll on one pretext or the other. They generally address themselves with their official and social statures rather than normal road users, which is adversely blocking the flow of money to the road construction companies causing acute financial constraints. In addition, there are rising incidence of state governments exempting specific vehicle categories from toll payments and this is also causing concern among road developers and concessionaires alike. Agreements signed between the concessionaires and the governments have no such clauses of adding more vehicles to the exempted category and practice increasingly creating financial mess. These apart, liquidity stress till the receipt of compensation from the state government is also jeopardizing the concessionaire’s ability to service debt in a timely manner, he said.

Delivering industry perspective, Chairman, Roads, Ports and other Infrastructure Committees, Ashish Wing, stated that key infrastructure sectors are moving ahead at an appreciable pace and this has opened up tremendous business opportunities for equipment manufacturers, technology providers and contractors and allied functionaries by introducing multiple road building models in the road and highway sector. In an encouraging development in the road sector, NHAI has awarded a record breaking 150 projects worth ₹1.22 lakh crore for constructing a length of 7,400 km of highways. In the past five years, the average length of road projects awarded by NHAI was 2,860 km but the length of projects awarded in FY 2017-18 is an all-time high since its inception in 1995. He further added that PHDCC is playing pivotal role and is instrumental in addressing pressing concerns the road and highway sector is currently confronting. In totality, the summit over the years, going all out highlighting that connectivity via roads, rails and waterways is the key for attaining projected GDP growth targets. In view of this, PHDCC believes that the current pace of road and highway building will open up huge business avenues for stake holders including those engaged in the construction equipment industry. The industry in turn must make the most out of the commendable work currently being carried out by the transport ministry by rolling out their best machines, hi-tech technology and expertise enabling contractors to execute their projects on or before schedules.

Deputy GM Mini Excavator Sales and Business, JCB India, J S Narula in his address dwelled in detail about the introduction of JCB3Plus in India and neighboring countries from its Jaipur manufacturing facility. The machine is a 3-ton operating weight with a width of 1.55 metres designed especially to work in congested and narrow areas and job sites with restricted access for trench digging along roads and highways. It is the most suitable equipment for cable pipeline laying task along highways, basements and culverts due to its unique boom and arm offset feature. It comes with a pre-fitted auxiliary hydraulic circuit and enabling JCB Rock Breakers for breaking concrete and solidified slag and also with JCB Auger for drilling holes in the ground and pole erection, fence posts and tree plantations. Besides it is an ideal asset for civil and utility works in urban infrastructure development, roads, railways and real estate development projects.

Likewise, Lt Gen Harpal Singh, Director General Border Road Organization, said that (BRO) develops and maintains road networks in India's borders and friendly neighboring countries. It currently maintains road operations in twenty-one states, one UT (Andaman and Nicobar Islands), and neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. It operates and maintains over 32,885 km of roads and about 12,200 meters of permanent bridges in the country. BRO is constructing 63 of the 73 roads as it costs BRO $15 million to $30 million per km as compared to $60 million to $70 million per km of road construction by the private companies. In two years alone, 2015–16 and 2016–17 the government has allocated more than $4.7 billion in contracts for the development of border roads, which also includes the $256 million 1,360 km India Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway from Moreh in Manipur through Tamu Myanmar to Mae Sot in Thailand.

Apart from roads, it is also building 410 2-lane class-70 (heavy load bearing including tanks) road bridged along the 3,440 km long border with China. These apart, BRO is currently building 17 road and rail tunnels, with a total length of 100 km, on some of the 73 strategic roads on Sino-Indian border to provide the year-round all-weather rail and road surface connectivity. It is currently constructing Srinagar Kargil Leh tunnel on NH 1 in Jammu and Kashmir, Zojila pass tunnel, Leh Manali highway in J&K and Himachal Pradesh and these are some among other projects that are currently under construction in the Himalayan belt across the country. BRO is working on a project of building 699-km long roads in areas bordering Bhutan as China shares border with four Indian states including Assam (267 km), Arunachal Pradesh (217 km), West Bengal (183 km) and Sikkim (32 km) and government has proposed all-weather border road network all along the frontier and this has offered umpteen business opportunities to equipment makers and suppliers.

Managing Director, NHIDCL, IAS, Nagendra Nath Sinha, while delivering key note address said that the agency is responsible for the construction of strategic roads bridges and tunnels across hilly areas in the Himalayan belt of the country. It has built about 3,000 km of roads since 2014 and currently has 2,800 km of highway projects in hand and will commission 2,000 km of them during this fiscal. The flexible policy initiatives of the government including higher land rates has not just resolved land acquisition issues but also enabled NHIDCL to put to use the best technology and IT resources to build quality highways. NHIDCL in fact, is a key market place for quality equipment makers and suppliers and exhorted PHD Chamber to help the agency to procure hi-tech equipment including quality pavers as such a move will go a long way in helping the NHIDCL in its areas of operation including maintaining the highways in the foothills of Himalaya.

Elaborating on the financial aspect of the highway sector, Joint Managing Director, IRB, Sudhir Hoshing, revealed that apart from multi-pronged strategies being explored by the transport ministry including exploring offshore funding sources to make available adequate financing for the road and highway sector. In an encouraging development, now private banks like HDFC, Kotak Mahindra, IndusInd, Yes Bank, and RBL have started showing keen interest to fund more national highway projects also under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, which until recently was getting a step-motherly treatment. This comes at a time when some of the public sector banks, reeling under massive NPAs, are hesitant to finance more road construction works. In fact, the top brass of private banks in a recent meeting with transport minister Nitin Gadkari appeared ready to finance the projects executed under the hybrid annuity model (HAM) where government takes the maximum risk and financiers are largely insulated. On the other hand government is also working on options including reaching out to foreign pension funds to buy long-term NHAI bonds with assured returns.

Member (Projects) NHAI, R K Pandey, Group General Manager, Business Development, DFCCIL, S N Ali, Chief General Manager (IT) NHAI, A K Srivastava, Deputy Advisor, Transport, Niti Ayog, Amit Bhardwaj, Chief Scientist, Central Road Research Institute, K Sitaram Anjanyelu, National Business Manager, Trimble, Rajesh Monga and Vice President, Business Development Afcons Anup Kumar Guru were among many others who also addressed the Summit.

NBM&CW August 2018

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