Not only is this a national record, this may be a world record, pointed out Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday evening adding that at present nowhere in the world including China is such large quantum of work happening in the road sector.
Congratulating the entire present and past team for the performance, Gadkari is confident that the target of 40 km a day and probably even more will be met this year. The year saw award of 10,487 km against 8948 km in previous year.
The Minister added that there is a difference in a quality of highways being built. “We aim to lower the cost of construction and increase the quality of construction,” he added.
Elaborating on how India’s road contractor vendor ecosystem has widened, Road Transport and Highways Secretary Giridhar Aramane said that they are getting 10-15 bids for a project now. This is a departure from the scenario few years ago, when for all the large projects got two-three big players as bidders and smaller or newer players could not participate.
Aramane added that this prompted many companies to approach Chinese companies to form joint ventures to get the requisite credentials for technical qualification for work even in North East.
So, there were lots of joint ventures and Indian companies used to pay 2-3 per cent royalty just to technically qualify to bid. Now, after liberalising and relaxing the technical qualification norms, we are seeing good competition, said Secretary Aramane.
Fastag stops revenue leakage
Meanwhile, recounting the challenges of initial days, National Highways Authority of India Chairman Sukhbir Singh Sandhu said that in the last week of March last year when Covid-19 prompted lockdown was announced, NHAI migrated from manual payment system for contractors to electronic payment within a week to clear their dues. “As a result on March 31, there were no pending dues,” said Sandhu.
Also, NHAI moved to online project management portal which has now enabled much faster movement of files. Some of the files move from the project director to Chairman in the span of one day instead of months in some cases earlier.
Also, use of Fastag to make toll payments electronically has soared with 95 per cent of users now paying tolls electronically. Fastag adoption is likely benefit NHAI by ₹10,000 crore a year as electronic payment has stopped revenue leakage from toll collection points, said Sandhu.
Gadkari, who has himself played cricket, said missing his target of constructing 40 km a day was like a batman missing a century strike by a run. He added that constructing such length now – starting from a time when the biggest of contractors including L&T’s AM Naik said they would not like to work in the sector – was a bit like his political journey.
Gadkari, who had gone underground during emergency of 1975, said he had never imagined he would ever come to power. “We were so used to seeing candidates losing their deposits around that we used to celebrate those who did not lose their deposits,” quipped Gadkari, who had invited several top officials including former Secretaries, former NHAI Chairmen and former Road DGs who had served after he took charge as Minister in 2014 to celebrate the success.