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Construction : Cover Story | January 2016 | Source : CW-India

We plan to award about 6,000 km in the next year

Raghav Chandra, Chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)
For nearly two years, NHAI was headless as the position of full-time chairman fell vacant. Finally, Raghav Chandra took over as chairman in 2015. And in his new position, he is well on the way to make a huge impact and change the future of highways in the country. Ready for action, he shares his plans.

Developments brought about:
Change in mindset: It is still a work in progress. I have introduced a definitive change in the approach of everybody connected with NHAI. We have begun to look at ourselves, not just as a premier road construction agency but a service agency, concerned holistically with the entire lifecycle of the highway - it is development, maintenance, operations and management. Therefore, the officers and staff have been encouraged to think and act like those of a responsible national or statutory public authority and not like those of a for-profit PSU. Similarly, the contractor is now looked upon and made to act as a participatory stakeholder and not just as the signatory to a contract. And we have somewhat got around to collectively have greater sensitivity while addressing issues for a long-term vision. This is something we owe the nation, the citizens of India, so Indian highways become sustainable, efficient and effective.

Focused implementation: We have begun to resolve the issues and pain points of concessionaires in BOT projects that have been languishing for almost four to five years. There have been at least about 35 projects with some significant problem or another. We have been able to lend a helping hand so that about 20 of these projects have restarted. We have also made a more pointed and resolute effort at acquiring land and have done 40 per cent more LA and pre-construction work this year. More private investment has flown into the highways sector this year and our overall spending is about 30 per cent more than last year. I have initiated recruitment of staff at all levels and begun the process of creating an NHAI cadre to usher in a sense of ownership. We expect to have recruited about 400 new managers at various levels by the end of March 2016.

Catalysing schematic support from government: We have been able to get the government to recognise the difficulties and challenges involved in the past BOT model. For the first time, there have been improvements in the Model Concession Agreement.

Besides:

  • The CCEA approved compensation to the concessionaire in case of delay not attributable to the concessionaire for languishing PPP projects.
  • In BOT (toll) projects, extension of concession period.
  • In BOT (annuity) projects, to pay annuities to the concessionaries corresponding to actual period of delay not attributable to concessionaire upon successful completion of the project.
  • The Hybrid Annuity Model was approved and implemented for NHAI projects. NHAI received its first lots of bids in two packages of the Delhi-Meerut project and Meerut-Bulandshahar Project. This is expected to be the catalyst to see private-sector participation coming back to the roads sector.
  • Hundred per cent exit was approved for BOT projects; this has been done in the Ulundurpet-Padalur project, for instance, and divestment of equity has been approved for several others.
  • Deferment of revenue share was undertaken to help projects revive.
  • Harmonious substitution (Solapur-Maharashtra/Karnataka border, Vijawada-Gundogolanu, for example) has been taken to bring in those in a better position to complete projects.
  • Refinancing of project debt has been supported.
  • Equity infusion for Toll and Annuity Projects is being tried out - there are some conceptual issues with the prime lenders, but we hope to get the government to support a somewhat different approach.
  • Weekly review and video-conference of key NHAI projects with regional officers and senior officers for resolving issues impeding the progress of projects. It is a great sense of achievement that stalled projects such as Gurgaon-Jaipur, Panipat-Jallandhar and Delhi-Haridwar have taken off and hope to achieve major progress in the next few months.

Safety focus: Major emphasis has been given to road safety issues by placing the subject with an NHAI member. The final report of the committee of AV Sinha, Ex DG Roads, has been received and is under study. Proposals have been prepared to ensure engineering retrofits on highways, which include flyovers, PUPs, VUPs. Apart from this, all ROs have been allowed to sanction repairs of potholes on highways up to Rs 1 crore. Further, road furniture like crash barriers, delineators, etc, are being given high priority.

Technology focus:
Electronic toll collection: ETC equipment installation is completed at around 250 toll plazas; ETC clearing house revamp has been put on fast track.
Traffic surveys: Over 1,500 surveys of the first round have been completed. Data has been uploaded into the web server and reports are available online; second round of surveys have started; the access rights have been shared with relevant officers of NHAI and MoRTH.

Commuter comfort and sustainability:
Wayside amenities:
Project Master Plan has been finalised; feasibility reports of 39 sites are ready; site visit report has been prepared for 77 sites; draft RFP and contract document on BOT model has been prepared.
National Green Highways Policy: A separate vertical has been created for handling the green highways project and former principal chief conservator of forests, with a flair for development work, has been recruited last month and assigned this huge task.
Plans for the roads and highways sector for 2016: NHAI will have a two-pronged strategy in the year 2016. Languishing projects will be helped to get restarted vigorously and come quickly to completion. We also plan to award about 6,000 km in the next year apart from making substantial progress on all the fronts mentioned above.

Significance of your role in achieving the government´s plan to build 30 km of roads a day in two years: Along with awarding projects next year, we would substantially hasten the speed of work. For this, all project units have been upgraded with project directors of the rank of deputy general manager at least if not a general manager. Increasingly, as highway projects become more complex and need a higher dose of structures, in terms of metrics the number of kilometres of road constructed per day is not a true yardstick of success. Achievement should ideally be looked at from the prism of value-adds and services rendered. So, for instance, the gross ease to travel on all important roads has improved substantially. This is borne out by the number of man-hours of work done and the money spent on highway-related work. We have successfully raised over Rs 15,000 crore of funds through bonds - the exceptionally high level of participation reflects the faith of citizens in our work.

 
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