After striving to turn the pandemic-induced ”crisis into an opportunity” with ongoing construction of tunnel roads in tough terrains and critical infrastructure, the government will step on the gas in the new year for massive penetration of electric vehicles as well as expansion of road networks. From Kailash Mansarovar route to Zojila tunnel to Lipulekh pass, massive construction works in the country’s roads and highways sector are either in progress or launched or have been completed during the coronavirus pandemic-ravaged 2020.
In the words of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, the driving force behind roadways expansion and numerous infrastructure development projects, the government decided to turn the crisis due to the pandemic into an opportunity. The total length of national highways is currently around 1,34,400 kilometres and the aim is to add another 60,000 kilometres in five years’ time.
As the globe battled COVID-19, ”we decided to turn it (crisis) into an opportunity and massive work could be done in tough terrains, including tunnel below Chamba town, work on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route and other strategic highways”, Gadkari told PTI.
In 2020, the government launched the work for the strategic 14.15 kilometres-long Zojila tunnel to provide all-year connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh. Remodelling of the project, which has been pending for quite some time, is projected to result in savings worth about Rs 5,000 crore.
During the pandemic, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) completed a substantial part of the work of road connectivity from Dharchula to Lipulekh, popularly known as Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route. The strategically-crucial stretch connects the Lipulekh pass at a height of 17,000-feet along the border with China in Uttarakhand with Dharchula.
”Seven tunnel roads are under construction in the Jammu and Kashmir region alone, including construction of the 8,450 metres-long twin-tube tunnel between Qazigund and Banihal that will be completed by the coming March. The work on 2,968 metres-long 6-single tunnels road between Ramban and Banihal is due for completion in December 2021,” Gadkari said.
”We have completed about 85 per cent work on the Kailash Mansarovar route and the remaining work is likely to be completed by April 2021,” the Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Minister said. According to him, through different programmes, a target for development of 60,000 kilometres of national highway in the next five years has been set.
The work is on full swing, including the Rs 1 lakh crore-Delhi-Mumbai express corridor, which the government is confident of completing in the next two years. Gadkari also noted that about 50 percent work on the corridor has been completed.
Also, 22 new express highways are on the anvil, including the Chennai-Bangalore one, that will help reduce overall logistics costs. With India’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 30-35 percent by 2030 and efforts to cut down on Rs 8 lakh crore-worth crude oil imports, the focus is also on green fuel and electricity as well as Electric Vehicles (EVs).
”India is power surplus. So the benefits of e-mobility solutions are immense… The Centre intends to have an electric vehicle sales penetration of 30 percent for private cars, 70 percent for commercial cars, 40 percent for buses, and 80 percent for two and three-wheelers by 2030 by providing various incentives, which are likely to drive the growth of EV market in India,” Gadkari said. The government is planning to set up at least one e-charging kiosk at each of the around 69,000 petrol pumps across the country with an aim to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles, he said.
Asserting that India has the potential to become the largest EV producer in the world in the next five years, Gadkari said, ”now is the time to harbour the ambition to become number one… the raw material is available, power rates are reducing… It is a win-win situation”. In addition to electricity, ethanol can be another powerful fuel, the minister said and asserted that from being a Rs 22,000 crore-ethanol economy, it could be easily taken to Rs 2 lakh crore which would generate 25 lakh employment opportunities.
At least 1,600 crore litres of ethanol is required for blending with petrol as 10 percent can be blended now but procurement is only 450 litres. ”We plan to permit blending up to 22 percent and for that 3,500 litres of ethanol will be required for petrol only while additional huge requirement will be needed for diesel as in coming days there will be flex engines for automobiles on the pattern of developed nations,” the minister said.
In the context of the road transport ministry recently coming out with Cab Aggregator Guidelines, Gadkari said, ”we are committed to formalise this industry in order to create a professional manpower of drivers and operators who are trained with all best practices and equipped with required skill to provide end to end connectivity”. On the roadways front, 2020 saw asset monetisation programme getting accelerated under the Toll Operate Transfer (TOT) model which was reworked leading to realistic price discovery of an asset.
Infrastructure debt funds have been allowed to participate in direct financing of the asset under monetisation through this route and smaller projects have been made available to help investors. Investment trusts and special purpose vehicles have also been introduced for funding for expressways. To fast-track highways construction technical and financial qualification for eligibility has been relaxed to encourage wider participation of builders in HAM (Hybrid Annuity Model), EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) models.
Working capital requirements were streamlined by rescheduling and fast-tracking payment cycles, thereby releasing more than Rs 8,000 crore-worth of payments during the lockdown period. Among other initiatives, performance security requirement has been done away with to ease cash flow in the sector and funds worth Rs 4,000 crore have been released while existing PPP contractors either in HAM or BOT or TOT have been compensated for losses.
”The target to is to build highways worth Rs 15 lakh crore in the 3-4 years and during my earlier tenure, I had ensured works worth Rs 17 lakh crore in my combined ministries,” Gadkari said. For 35 logistics parks under the Bharatmala initiative, a special purpose vehicle — National Highways Logistics Management Company — has been set up with NHAI Member Manoj Kumar as its Chairman.
Enhanced focus on electronic toll collection through FASTags has resulted in an increase in toll collections which are likely to reach Rs 33,000 crore by March and rise to Rs 1 lakh crore by 2025.