NHAI slows down on giving data, makes analysis of projects tougher

Topics NHAI | roads | Highways

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) could be the latest government agency facing a data deficit, say industry experts as they cite patchy public disclosures on road contracts.

“Disclosures are on a decline. Highways data is not being updated the way it was done earlier. Monthly disclosures are turning into quarterly and quarterly ones into half-yearly,” said an executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity and whose firm relies on the information to analyse road companies.

The latest management information system (MIS) report —which usually comprises data points on contracts awarded, execution, land acquisition, and contract completion—on the NHAI website is for September 2018. But for the previous financial year (2017-18), the website has reports for all months.

“Once NHAI migrated to its new website, they updated the MIS report for six months or so, post that it stopped,” said a second executive, who agreed data availability has turned irregular. The new website was launched in October 2017.

“The tender section (on the NHAI website) requires them to update on the movement of each tender, but that data is raw and not compiled like the MIS reports,” he said. 

The authority also shares data under the header called 'bid awarded in the current financial year'. Executives said this data is updated in an irregular fashion, or sometimes not updated for months.

Emails sent to NHAI chairman Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and a spokesperson remained unanswered.

Industry experts have for many years depended on NHAI’s data on awards and execution to draw their projections and other reports. Without regular data, they now depend on other disclosures: information shared by listed entities and the government’s replies in Parliament. “We are drawing our projections and inferences from what data is available in the listed space,” a third executive said. Some highway construction companies are listed on the stock exchanges and share data as quarterly financial performance disclosures.

However, such companies do not allow for a wider range of data. Besides, unlisted companies were executing 63 per cent of the NHAI’s hybrid-annuity model (HAM) projects in 2018-19, according to a report by Equirus Capital. This share is higher at 88 per cent for the NHAI’s engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects, the report stated.

The reasons for the slow pace of data updating process are not clear. “Slower pace of execution and awards could be the possible reasons," said the second executive quoted in the story.

Unavailability of such data, however, does not impact road developers in a big way, said the top official of a major road developer. NHAI data, however, helps in gauging the pace of investment in highways. Various agencies and analysts put out regular reports on the rate of project awards, the pace of execution, rate of contract and delays, if any.

According to Ratnam Raju, associate director, CARE Ratings, of the set target of 6,000 km to be awarded in the current financial year, 2,982 km was awarded up to October 2019. The pace of construction also stood at 4,622 kms for the first six months of the current financial year, against a target of 11,000 km for the full year.

(Megha Manchanda contributed to this story.)

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