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Nod to new border road agency

New Delhi, March 15: The cabinet on Thursday cleared the formation of a corporate entity to speed up work on highways along international borders, with the immediate focus on the Northeast.

The National Highways Connectivity Company Limited will look after projects that are now carried out by the National Highways Authority of India, the Border Road Organisation or state public works departments (PWDs).

The Centre has identified 10,000km of roads for the new agency to take up, of which the Northeast accounts for nearly 7,000km. It has sanctioned Rs 100 crore as a one-time capital investment for the firm, which is also expected to work on some north Bengal roads.

This is the UPA government’s second attempt during its 10-year tenure to focus on roads in the Northeast.

In 2005, the Centre had floated a Special Accelerated Road Development Project for the region, sanctioning Rs 33,500 crore to build 6,418km of roads. More than eight years down the line, the pace has been hardly “accelerated”: only 1,280km of roads have been constructed.

The project is being carried out by the National Highways Authority of India and the state PWDs.

The road ministry’s cabinet note has blamed the state PWDs’ “limited capacity” —particularly in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram — for the project’s tardiness.

The ministry has justified the move for the new body by arguing that the National Highways Authority of India’s hands are full, since it is “fully engaged in the development of the current National Highway Development Programme”.

“It would be rather difficult for it to provide the focused attention required for the development of national highways in the remote and challenging border areas and the northeastern region,” the cabinet note reads.

Another reason the ministry has cited is that such projects require “customised and specialised” skills to deal with complex geographical terrains or conditions such as excessive rainfall.

While the cabinet has given its approval, the Planning Commission had objected to the move.

“In what way would this company add value over and above (the) existing institutions and decision-making framework,” the commission had noted in its response to the ministry’s cabinet note.

The corporate body has its work cut out because several international connectivity projects are in the pipeline. These include bus services connecting Shillong to Dhaka, Guwahati to Dhaka, and Imphal to Mandalay (Myanmar), for which roads must be upgraded.

There’s also the South Asia Sub Regional Economic Cooperation Programme, which aims to expand about 500km of roads in north Bengal and the Northeast.