National Highway Authority of India

Constituted by the National Highways Authority of India Act, 1988, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is responsible for the development, maintenance and management of all National Highways that are entrusted to it and handles related matters and incidents. The NHAI came into operations in February 1995. India has a network of National Highways of length over 71,772 kilometers (44,597 miles). NHAI is as an autonomous agency of the Government of India working in conjunction with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The NHAI’s responsibility is inclusive of management to the operation of the vast network of the National Highways in India.

Some of the responsibilities of the NHAI are listed below:

  • Constant monitoring of the highways that is a direct responsibility of the NHAI including maintenance and further development, if necessary
  • A rigid surveillance of the vehicles using the highways including imposing regulations on the traffic thereby managing the flow of vehicles effectively
  • Extend complete cooperation in various construction projects pertaining to highways and related facilities. R&D for the betterment of highways is also a major responsibility
  • Providing the due facilities and cooperation to the highway users

The National Highways Authority of India, however, is facing an all time low as evident from the fact that it has managed a construction of only 787 kilometers of highway in 2012 – 2013. The ambitious dream of the NHAI of constructing 20 kilometers of national highways per day is beyond the wildest of its imagination now. In fact constructing 8 kilometers of national highways is an effort on the part of the NHAI. In 2011-2012 NHAI had shown an outstanding performance by awarding 8,000 kilometers of National Highways construction jointly with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Based on this performance, the Budget allotted a target project of 8,800 kilometers to NHAI which was later increased by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to 9,500 kilometers. This target had to be successively revised to a figure of 5,000 kilometers. However, low awarding capacity and the loose attitude of NHAI makes even achieving this target quite doubtful.

At most a target of 2,300 kilometers seems feasible to be achieved by NHAI jointly with the road transport ministry. The reason for such poor performance is very simple. There are practically no takers interested in highway construction projects. Tenders are hardly attended by bidders. Only 500 kilometers of the originally targeted 9,500 kilometers has been awarded so far, that too jointly by NHAI and the road ministry, highlighting the dismal performance and the futility of NHAI in awarding road construction projects.

The factors for the deplorable performance of NHAI are simple. One of them is of course the environmental issue. Thousands of trees have been mowed down in the name of creating 6 four lane highways in places like Nagpur. According to a report filed by Nature Conservation Association (NCA), 6,282 trees were cut during a road construction project between the Wadi – Kondhali stretch. However, NHAI has violated its own norms and hasn’t even cared to plant half the number of trees it had cut down which was a direct disobeying of the high court order. Besides most of the saplings planted by NHAI as compensatory measures are dead and NHAI had been prompt in blaming the weather conditions for it. But the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of NHAI by de-linking the environmental and forest clearance.

The second factor is NHAI is undoubtedly a fund starved sector. The lending institutions have firmly declared that funds allotted for road constructions this year have been depleted compelling the Government to request the banks to fund road constructions minus the complications and to “consider toll revenues as tangible assets”. The absence of bidders during tenders and no takers for road projects comes as no surprise. Even the RBI has been proposed by the finance ministry to sanction “secure loans” for road projects.

The third factor of course is the rampant corruption in our government. No doubt that in Gujarat and Ahmedabad some sections of the National Highways are so smooth and wide that a biplane can land and take off. But what about the dilapidated conditions of the National Highway Networks especially in West Bengal? A pot holed landscape is a ubiquitous sight. In some sections the National Highways catering a two way traffic are so narrow that barely a standard sized bus can pass without scraping its sides. Constant plying of heavy vehicles compounded with the heavy monsoon rains have peeled off the asphalt creating bombed out size craters thus revealing the corruption lying underneath.

The National Highway networks are like the arteries and veins of our country, since India is heavily dependent on transportation. Under such conditions I guess it is high time for NHAI to pull up its socks and show a little responsibility from turning the National Highways to roads to perdition.