Lockdown 2.0: Our targets for project award won't decline, says Gadkari

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari
The central government has given relaxations to certain sectors to restart work amid the extended lockdown. In an interview to Megha Manchanda, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari says he is optimistic about the sector meeting its project execution target in a time-bound manner. Edited excerpts:

The government has decided to allow highway construction in pockets with zero or minimal Covid-19 cases. How do you plan to ensure safety, social distancing, hygiene, and food and shelter for migrant labourers? 

My ministry has made it very clear that all precautions required should be taken by all concerned — be it on project sites or any other place.

Which projects will be given priority, when it comes to starting construction?

I have asked the road ministry, NHAI (National Highways Authority of India), and NHIDCL (National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation) to grant the approvals, and complete other desk work.

We have bids under evaluation for more than 1,300 km in length, which can be awarded immediately. Another 1,500 km is ready for bidding. I don’t think our targets for award will see any decline.

Will workers be asked to put in extra hours to compensate for lost time? How will you ensure they get paid for overtime?

The issue of determining working hours does not fall within the mandate of my ministry. The ministry expects everybody to follow the law in this regard. Contractors and concessionaires are required to work accordingly, and need to take care of social distancing and other advisories.

Following relaxations after April 20, have you prepared a blueprint of projects that will start?

Many projects of national importance warrant an immediate start of work. However, we also understand the intensity of this pandemic. I have reviewed the present scenario with highway sector officers.

However, we are only looking at allowing work to start where standard social distancing norms can be followed.

Has any state, besides those in which work has started, come forward with its request to begin work?

As regards construction activity on the ‘National Highways’ network, we allow construction only in rural areas (outside the limit of municipalities).

Construction work within municipalities will be allowed only where workers are available on site, and no worker has to be brought in from outside. Officers of MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) and its implementing agencies such as NHAI and state PWDs, are in close coordination with local district administration to get necessary permissions.

What happens to new highway projects announced by the government and road monetisation exercise?

New projects under the Bharatmala Pariyojana will be taken up without delay. Work on DPRs (detailed project reports) is also being monitored intensively.

The idea is to push our officers to take decisions expeditiously, in view of the disruptions. As for asset monetisation, it is an instrument to raise funds and I am sure it will do well. But we will also continue to explore other possibilities like long-term loans, securitisation, and bonds. We may also have to think about some innovative ways of financing.

Will the roads ministry revise its highway construction and execution target for FY21?

Despite the pandemic, we aspire to maintain the momentum of last year, and our target for construction in FY21 is slightly more than FY20 at 10,250 km. Similarly, for awarding new works, we have a target of 12,650 km.

What will be the economic impact of Covid on the road sector?

The Covid-19 crisis has led to  lockdown and general slowing in economic activity globally. It is necessary to get it up and running without delay. The infrastructure sector, in general, and highway sector, in particular, have multiplier effects on the economy.

Innovative methods such as accelerated construction techniques, faster decision-making, putting extra hour/resources, will be tried to help achieve our targets, thereby arresting any potential GDP fall.

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