Short tenures of NHAI chiefs make progress path longer

The current NHAI chairman, Deepak Kumar, is a 1984 batch IAS officer of the Bihar cadre
Frequent changes at the helm of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has created issues of functional continuity. The authority’s chairman, Deepak Kumar, is the fourth in a span of two years.

Experts said shorter tenures of chairmen were a hindrance in decision making and affected investor confidence. Road companies said heads of organisations that do not stay for a longer period or complete their stipulated tenure refrain from taking responsibility.

Adil Zaidi, partner, economic development, and infrastructure advisory, EY, said: “From investors’ point of view, a chairman’s tenure should be at least three years. They want someone with a longer tenure.”

Longer tenure as NHAI chairman would also mean better decision making. Some companies in the infrastructure space said those who have headed NHAI for a short haul have refrained from taking stronger and harsher decisions, thereby impacting the growth of the sector. Allowing a person to head the NHAI for longer would also mean greater autonomy, a better grasp of critical subjects such as the public-private-partnership or hybrid-annuity model, said a person involved in the sector.

According to an industry expert, frequent change at the top position has affected the sector dearly. A major reason has been the lack of continuous interaction with industry.

Some key policy decisions were taken during R P Singh’s three-year tenure as NHAI chief. One of the crucial decisions was the amendments to the Model Concession Agreement (MCA). For awarding projects on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, according to the amendments, payment of premium starts only from the fourth year of completion of a project, against the first year previously.

Singh, however, did not have a smooth relationship with the administrative ministry of road transport and highways.

After Singh demitted office in June 2015, the top spot witnessed four changes — Vijay Chhibber, the then 

Road Secretary held additional charge of NHAI for two months after which Raghav Chandra was brought to the helm. Chandra was in NHAI office for 15 months before he was replaced by Y S Mallik (current road secretary) for seven months.

The current NHAI chairman, Deepak Kumar, is a 1984 batch IAS officer of the Bihar cadre. In the past, Deepak Dasgupta, Santosh Nautiyal and Brijeshwar Singh have enjoyed longer terms at the NHAI top job. While Dasgupta headed the authority from May 1997 to December 2002, Nautiyal was its chief from January 2003 to July 2006 and Singh from October 2008 to December 2010.

The appointment of the NHAI chairman is done according to the NHAI Act.

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