New Delhi, March 15: The Union cabinet has cleared the formation of a special corporate entity to speed up work on highways along the country’s international borders.
The National Highways Connectivity Company Limited, approved by the cabinet on Thursday, will look after work being carried out by the National Highway Authority of India, the Border Roads Organisation and state PWDs.
The Centre has identified 10,000km of roads for the company to take up, of which nearly 7,000km is in the Northeast.
The government has sanctioned Rs 100 crore as one-time capital investment for the firm.
This is the UPA government’s second effort in its 10-year tenure to focus on Northeast roads. In 2005, it had floated the Special Accelerated Road Development Project for North East, sanctioning a whopping Rs 33,500 crore to construct 6,418km. Eight years down the line, the pace of the project, carried out by the NHAI and state PWDs, has hardly been “accelerated” as only 1,280km has been constructed.
The ministry of road transport and highways, in a note presented at Thursday’s meeting, blamed the “limited capacity” of state PWDs, particularly those of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, for the tardy pace of SARDP project.
The ministry justified the corporate entity move further by claiming that the NHAI’s hands were full. “The NHAI is fully engaged in National Highway Development Programme and it would be rather difficult for it to provide the focused attention required for development of national highways in the remote and challenging border areas and the northeastern region,” the cabinet note reads.
The ministry also said that such projects require “customised and specialised” skills to deal with complex geographical terrain or conditions like excessive rainfall.
While the cabinet gave its approval, the Planning Commission protested against the project. “In what way would this company add value over and above the existing institutions and decision-making framework?” it noted in its response to the road ministry’s cabinet note.
The company has its work cut out. There are several international connectivity projects in the pipeline, including Shillong-Dhaka, Guwahati-Dhaka and Imphal-Mandalay bus services for which roads will have to be upgraded. Besides, there is the South Asia Sub Regional Economic Cooperation Programme which aims to expand about 500km of roads in north Bengal and the Northeast.