We are planning to award projects worth around Rs 2.25 trillion in the current fiscal
- Dr. Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, NHAI
Despite losing the best construction months to Covid-19 related lockdown, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) constructed 4,192 km of National Highways in FY2020-21. Notably, this is the highest ever highway construction achieved in a financial year by NHAI. At 4,192 km, the pace of construction increased by 5 per cent in 2020-21 as compared to 3,979 km constructed in 2019-20 and 24 per cent more than 3,380 km constructed in 2018-19. Considering construction in lane kilometer, NHAI has constructed 18,500 lane km during FY2020-21, tallying to over 50 lane km per day.
- Dr. Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, NHAI Despite losing the best construction months to Covid-19 related lockdown, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) constructed 4,192 km of National Highways in FY2020-21. Notably, this is the highest ever highway construction achieved in a financial year by NHAI. At 4,192 km, the pace of construction increased by 5 per cent in 2020-21 as compared to 3,979 km constructed in 2019-20 and 24 per cent more than 3,380 km constructed in 2018-19. Considering construction in lane kilometer, NHAI has constructed 18,500 lane km during FY2020-21, tallying to over 50 lane km per day. This is 40 per cent more than the 13,243 lane km constructed in FY2019-20 and 91 per cent more in comparison to the 9,684 km constructed in FY2018-19. How was this achieved? “During the first wave of Covid-19 last year, NHAI remained persistent in working diligently towards creating National Highway infrastructure. We have successfully overcome the challenges by the pandemic and related situation in 2020. Like last year, we are fully committed to complete our projects in a time bound manner with least impact due to the pandemic and subsequent situation,” says Dr. Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). He shares more on NHAI’s plans and targets in an exclusive interview with SERAPHINA D’SOUZA. How have you been able to achieve a decent pace of construction despite labour shortage, raw material supply issues and other challenges amid the pandemic? NHAI has been trying to speed up the construction in brownfield projects. Many such projects require working on running roads, which at times hamper the speed of the construction. We are trying to turn the pandemic into an opportunity for construction and have issued instructions to our field offices to make most of this time to speed up the construction work wherever possible, as the traffic is low due to Covid-19 related restrictions. Also, adequate arrangements were made for the workers to avoid migration. NHAI has ensured safety of the workforce by mandating following of Covid protocols at work sites and provided masks and sanitizers. NHAI and its concessionaires have also provided adequate medical aid, food and shelter wherever required. The workforce also realise that all these facilities may not be so easily available if they choose to go back to their villages. We have also got support from the district administration in making the required arrangements for the workers. NHAI has been trying its level best to ensure that construction work continues at sites which are not under lockdown by ensuring proper precautions as per the Covid-19 protocol because livelihood of the poor is also important. As the number of cases are coming down in different states, we are sure that the speed of construction will pick up and will be able to achieve the targets this year too. So what are the targets for award and construction this year? NHAI awarded projects worth Rs 1.71 trillion in 2020-21. Exceeding the 4,500 km project award target, NHAI awarded 141 projects totaling 4,788 km in 2020-21. The share of engineering procurement and construction (EPC) in the contract award last fiscal was the highest at about 50 per cent, followed by hybrid annuity model (HAM) at about 49 per cent and two projects were awarded through the build, operate and transfer (BOT) model. For FY2021-22, we are planning to award projects worth around Rs 2.25 trillion. NHAI has set a highway construction target of 4,600 km and HAM is expected to have the largest share of awards, followed by EPC. BOT is likely to gain momentum to constitute between 5-10 per cent of the award basket. Last fiscal, favourable changes were made to improve participation from the private sector – such as in the BOT and HAM models, and relaxation of bidder eligibility criteria. What are your views on PPP? Highway construction by the private sector on PPP model had come to a halt in the last few years and we are in the process of reviving them through the Build-Operate-Transfer BOT (Toll) system. This year, NHAI has awarded two projects on BOT (Toll) mode in West Bengal. We got an encouraging response from the leading concessionaires. This has encouraged us and now we will be coming up with a pipeline of projects to be bid out on BOT. This revival in interest is majorly due to the recently amended Model Concession Agreement (MCA). The new MCA has more attractive terms for concessionaires and more appropriate risk sharing under the BOT (Toll) system. NHAI has also been taking several steps for faster settlement of claims and disputes… For faster settlement of claims and reduce liabilities, NHAI has rigorously started the process of conciliation by constituting three Conciliation Committees of Independent Experts (CCIE) of three members each. These Conciliation Committees are being headed by retired officials from the judiciary, senior experts from public administration, finance and from the private sector. In fact, we are asking all contractors and concessionaires to come for conciliation for faster settlement of the claims. NHAI started this initiative in FY2017-18. Since then, 175 cases have been referred to CCIE. Till date, 103 cases of claims by contractors, worth over Rs 250 billion, have been successfully settled for an amount of about Rs 90 billion. During the last financial year, NHAI launched a drive to bring maximum ongoing arbitration or court matters under the ambit of conciliation as well as to complete all ongoing CCIE matters in a time-bound manner and we have settled a record number of 60 cases for Rs 53.12 billion against claimed amount of Rs 142.06 billion during 2020-21. What about solutions to help resolve land acquisition issues? Land acquisition has been a major cause of delay of National Highway projects. Hence, we have decided that no project will be awarded unless minimum 90 per cent land is acquired for EPC and BOT projects and 80 per cent for HAM projects. The remaining land is made available within the next six months. All the clearances for forest, wildlife or environment and estimates for utility shifting are also taken before we award the project. The process of project appraisal is also commenced at the earliest on receipt of the final Detailed Project Report (DPR) and technical schedules. NHAI has decided that all new proposals for construction and development of National Highways will be examined by a committee for approving the land acquisition plan and alignment, based on viability of the projects. NHAI has been leveraging technology to enhance transparency and accountability. The entire project management workflow of NHAI is transformed from manual to its unique Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered Big Data Analytics platform – Data Lake and Project Management Software. Complete project execution operations including ‘workflow with timelines’ and ‘alert mechanism’ have been configured. All project documentation, contractual decisions and approvals are now being done through portal only. With advance analytics, the Data Lake software forecast delays, likely disputes and gives advance alerts. It is due to these measures that the contractors are able to start work from day one and we have been able to achieve the new construction targets every year.