The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The national highway development project, which was announced four years back, envisages 4-6 laning of the existing high-density highway corridors linking the four mega-cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. It also aims at the creation of north-south and east-west corridors — linking Srinagar in the north and Kanyakumari in the south with a spur between Salem to Kochi, and Porbandar in the west to Silchar in the east. The 11 major Indian ports would also be interconnected by this project. With an overall length of 14,162 kilometres, the NHDP is one of the largest highway projects in the world.

The modernization of the national highways is being implemented in two phases. The first phase involves the entire Golden Quadrilateral along with some stretches of the N-S and E-W corridors. Work on various areas of the GQ is already on. Phase II covers 5,744 km in the N-S and E-W corridors and is expected to be completed in December, 2007. Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Jaipur, Delhi-Mathura-Agra, Jalandhar-Ludhiana-Ambala-Panipat, Chilakaluripet-Vijayawada and Jagatpur-Chandikhol are some of the stretches where the work of 4-laning and strengthening of the existing highways have been successfully completed, bringing immense benefits to the local economies.

Away with the hurdles

The NHDP is not without its share of problems though. The progress of work in certain stretches along the GQ has been hampered owing to deteriorating law and order, problems in land acquisition, forest clearance and removal of large number of structures, forcible stoppage of work by local people, non-availability of quarry stone, pending court cases, deployment of inadequate qualified staff by the contractors at the construction-sites, and tardiness on the part of the contractors.

Financing the project was also an uphill task. The estimated cost stands at Rs 58,000 crore. Apart from the Rs 20,000 crore contributed jointly by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation, the Centre has also adopted a multi-pronged approach to meet this challenge. It has started by ensuring the collection of an equal sum by imposing a cess on petrol and diesel in two consecutive Union budgets. Market borrowings to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore has also been arranged. The remaining money is expected to come from private sector participation.

On the fast track

By improving accessibility and mobility, NHDP will not only help certain states, but the national economy also. According to a World Bank study, monetary benefits accruing out of the GQ alone will amount to Rs 8,000 crore annually. NHDP will boost the road-construction industry by increasing the demand for construction materials and other equipment. An estimated 30-40 lakh metric tonnes of cement, 3 lakh metric tonnes of steel, and Rs 600 crore worth of domestic equipment would be consumed on an average annually during 2001-04 .

The modernized highways will reduce travel time between metros by half. In terms of employment generation, the NHDP could provide employment to 40 workers per km per day, and create employment opportunities for 10,000 staff and 2 supervisors per day during the execution of the project. The project has already generated employment for two lakh people. The greatest beneficiary of this mega project will be the vehicle-owners who will save substantially on costs of petrol, diesel, maintenance and on travel-time.

The NHDP is India’s most ambitious road project since the construction of the Grand Trunk road. In the five decades after independence, a mere 556 km of 4-6-lane highways has been constructed in the country. For an early completion of the NHDP, it is imperative that the problems and obstacles are identified fast and addressed competently by the authorities. Once completed, the network of highways will definitely place India at par with the countries of the first world.

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