Bharatmala project to turn to finance ministry for allocation of funds

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ Bharatmala scheme will now depend on the finance ministry for funds because allocation for road projects under the newly announced Central Road and Infrastructure Fund (CRIF), unlike the Central Road Fund (CRF), has become discretionary.

Earlier 41.5 per cent of the finances under the CRF were earmarked for national highway development. Fourteen per cent was for the railways, 10 per cent for state roads, and the remaining for rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. 

The Union government has proposed amendments to the CRF Act through the Finance Bill to create a panel headed by the finance minister. The panel will have the powers to decide the allocation of the corpus under the CRIF.

Under the CRIF, allocation will be made to all notified infrastructure sectors including power, water and sanitation, waterways, and telecom. 

Also, once the Finance Bill is passed by Parliament, the CRF will be replaced by the CRIF, the utilisation of which will be decided by the panel.

The government has estimated to receive Rs 1,130 billion from the CRIF in 2018-19 as against Rs 43.50 billion estimated from the CRF in 2017-18, according to Union Budget documents.

Even though the corpus collected from the CRIF will increase, the kitty will be distributed among a larger number of sectors.

The cess is now levied on petrol and diesel at Rs 8 a litre, an increase of Rs 2 over the earlier road cess. 

The cess kitty, besides toll revenue and government support, funds the development of national highways. In October, the Union Cabinet had cleared the Bharatmala project to construct 24,800 km of highways connecting the western and eastern parts of the country at an estimated investment of Rs 7 trillion.

Bharatmala is the largest highways project after the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP), which saw the development of about 50,000 km, and aims at improving connectivity in border and other areas. In the first phase to be undertaken over three-five years, the project will cost Rs 5.5 trillion.

According to the latest information, the detailed project reports for nearly a third of the 24,800-km projects under Bharatmala have been completed and the land acquisition process for it has begun. 

Land of 12,000 hectares has been acquired and the remaining land required for the 8,000 km is under various stages of acquisition.

In a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Road Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday said the process of land acquisition had been streamlined with the development of a land acquisition portal for processing notifications online, and regional officers had been delegated the powers to release compensation. 

Panels comprising officials of state governments and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) have been formed for monitoring land acquisition.

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