Covid-19 impact: Centre set to prioritise road expansion over new projects

Experts feel that even though every infrastructure project is a priority, widening and expansion of existing roads may get precedence
The Union government might opt to expand existing roads as it looks to prioritise execution of projects. It is learnt that the government will issue guidelines for commencing work on projects based on certain criteria, like the availability of labour.

Experts feel that though every infrastructure project is a priority, widening and expanding existing roads might get precedence as beginning work on those projects would be easier, considering they would not require large amounts of land to start work.

“Besides the construction of existing roads, the Union government’s flagship Bharatmala scheme needs a lot of catching up in terms of both award and construction,” said Shubham Jain, senior vice-president and group head at ICRA.

According to a road ministry official in the know, “Worker health would be the criteria for restarting work. The area where labour is safe can start work and other projects would follow suit.”

The Union government, however, is unlikely to make any distinction between Bharatmala projects and other contracts as far as work commencement is concerned and it would be purely based on labour availability.

The Bharatmala scheme was approved by the Union Cabinet in October 2017, and aims to construct 20,000 km of highways connecting the western and eastern parts of the country at an estimated investment of Rs 7 trillion. In the first phase, to be undertaken over three-five years, the project would cost Rs 5.5 trillion.

The project would be funded through various sources, including Rs 2.09 trillion to be raised from the market, Rs 1.06 trillion through private investment and Rs 2.19 trillion from the central road fund or toll collection.

The maintenance of national highways is financed from the Central Road Infrastructure Fund (CRIF). Works are executed on agency basis by the public works department of the states, Border Roads Organisation, National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation, and National Highways Authority of India.

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