Fund crunch, land cost may slow down highway projects
The situation is so grim that in Jharkhand, J&K, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Goa, NHAI does not plan to take up any stretch this year. In Bihar, work for only 4km will be taken up, with 70km planned in Telangana and 76km in Kerala. Kerala was the first state to flag how only 76km out of the identified 966km was put in the top priority list, which snowballed into a political controversy, forcing NHAI to amend its order. In the case of Tamil Nadu, only 299km out of the identified 1,660km was categorised as top priority and in Karnataka it was 267km out of 11,57 km.
On May 2, NHAI came out with a list of works that would be taken up immediately across states totalling about 4,600 km (high priority-1) and another 7,400km were put under high priority-2 list. In its policy guidelines, NHAI had directed it field officers “not to proceed with land acquisition” in respect of priority-II projects But following objection from Kerala, NHAI in its amended order said the priority-I list is to be taken up on priority.
“However, it is not to be construed that the projects in high-2 list are dropped. The projects in high-2 list may be continued after seeking specific approval of NHAI HQ by providing the status of land acquisition as on May 2, 2019 and traffic on these projects.” Officials said. NHAI is caught in a crisis as finance ministry has asked it to take up works after factoring in fund availability. On the other hand, when it puts projects on hold, states protest.
“We have the mandate to implement 24,800 km under Bharatmala and 10,000km under NH Development Programme. The cost of Bharatmala has increased from Rs 5.35 lakh crore to almost Rs 8 lakh crore. We had estimated Rs 48,000 crore to acquire land for 34,000 km, which is little over Rs 1 crore per km. But so far we have paid nearly Rs 6 crore to acquire land for every km,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
TOI on April 26 had first reported that finance ministry and Niti Aayog had asked NHAI to get their priorities right and focus on building highways where they are needed more instead of taking up projects randomly. This had paved the way for coming out with the list of priority-I and II stretches.