After record highway construction in FY2021 despite challenges posed by the pandemic, the pace of highway construction has come down. In the first half of the current financial year, 3,824 kilometres (kms) of highways were built compared with 3,950 kms in the same period of the previous financial year. The award of contracts has also slowed. In April–September this year, contracts for 4,609 kms were awarded compared with 5,052 kms in the same period of the previous financial year.
The slowdown, even though marginal, has happened despite a strong pipeline of contracts under implementation. According to data from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, contracts worth Rs 9,22,404 crore were under implementation as on March 31, 2021. Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had set a target of 40 kms per day for FY2022 based on this encouraging project pipeline. However, the current pace is 21.77 kms per day.
Officials say the pace of construction is slow during the first half of the financial year as the period coincides with monsoon. “Monsoon is a factor. Along with this, the government is also constructing expressways, which take time due to additional number of lanes that have to be constructed,” says a top official of the National Highways Authority of India. He says the pace of construction is likely to pick up in the second half of the year and peak in the last quarter.
Another factor is the pandemic-related disruption, which may have impacted the work after the award of projects, say experts. “These are small reductions and no particular reason can be attributed to the delays. However, during the pandemic, the delays in various processes after project award such as financial closure seem to be having an impact. If you remove the projects awarded last year, the progress may be better,” says Kushal Singh, partner, Deloitte India.
It may be noted that highway construction had picked up strongly in the second half of the previous financial year and peaked in the last quarter at over 70 km a day. In January this year, 534 kms were constructed in a week, translating into 76 km a day. In the 22-day period between February 28 and March 22 this year, 1,170 kms were constructed, translating into an average daily construction of 53 kms.
It is also noteworthy that the government built a record length of 13,435 kms in the previous financial year despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. In FY2020, highways totaling 10,237 kms were constructed, as per data from the transport ministry.