Union Road Minister Nitin Gadkari has turned up the heat on states and directed them to complete around 700 highway projects before March next year, ostensibly to highlight the work done by him in his five-year tenure before electioneering starts. In a meeting on Tuesday, the minister took stock of the projects being executed in states by the road ministry, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), and National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL). There are 692 projects of 9,558 km, currently under various stages of execution, and the minister has directed the states concerned and the two bodies to finish them in time. Some projects that figure on the list have been languishing from before 2014. In those cases, the government has asked the states to terminate the contracts and invite fresh bids from contractors. The minister threatened to rescind remaining projects in states in which the older ones or those that are stuck are showing no signs of completing. The minister has given a target of completing 320-325 projects before March 2019, in an apparent attempt at improving its report before the elections, due in May 2019. The construction target in 2018-19 is 16,420 km, of which 9,700 km will be built by the road ministry, 6,000 km by the NHAI, and 720 km by the NHIDCL.
The bids for around 50 per cent of the projects should be invited before December 2018.In 2018-19, the ministry and the NHAI are expected to award a high number of projects under the Bharatmala scheme. Ministry officials say if the central government is unable to award a big share of Bharatmala projects during the current fiscal year, the 2022 deadline for finishing these contracts will be missed. In October last year, the Union Cabinet cleared the Bharatmala project to construct 20,000 km of highways connecting western and eastern parts of the country at an estimated investment of Rs 7 trillion. According to the official data, as many as 71 projects of 1,054 km figure on the pre-2014 list of pending projects. In 2014-15, there were 45 pending projects of 314 km, and in 2015-16, 91 projects of 1,739 km. The number grew to 261 of 6,278 km in 2016-17 and to 332 of 7,710 km in 2017-18. Land acquisition is one of the reasons given by state representatives for delays in executing contracts.