National Highways: Parliamentary Panel Recommends More Funds And Revamp Of Maintenance Mechanism

  • The committee has asked the ministry/NHAI to ensure that routine maintenance and repair activities are proactively carried out on national highways.
  • Amit MishraThursday, March 24, 2022 7:35 am IST
    A national highway.
    A national highway.

    A parliamentary committee has recommended to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to carry out an overhaul of the existing mechanism for inspection and monitoring of maintenance and repair requirements on national highways (NHs) across the country.

    The findings were reported in the 317th Report on Demands for Grants of MoRTH for the year 2022-23 which was presented by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture in Parliament on 14 March.

    The Concern

    According to the data presented before the committee, about 9,300 km length of NHs is yet to be entrusted to agencies for undertaking development and maintenance works. Similarly, another 27,000 km of the NHs are under maintenance and repair and these are not under the liability of other contractors.

    Thus, about 36,300 km of NHs is being maintained and repaired using the funds available under the head ‘Maintenance and Repair (M&R) of NHs’, which is about 25.71 per cent of the overall 141,190 km NH network of the country.

    The report has also noted its dismay over the paltry budget allocation for the M&R of NHs. According to the budget document, the sum allocated is Rs 2,480 crore for FY 22-23, which is only about 1.24 per cent of the overall budget allocation of Rs 199,107.71 crore for FY 2022-23.

    The Global Practice

    In developed countries like the United States, the allocation made for maintenance of federal highways is more than 50 per cent of the overall budget of the Federal Highway Administration. The budgetary allocation towards the same is extremely low in India.

    However, the budgetary allocation for the highway network of a developed economy like the US cannot directly be compared with that of India, as the latter needs to expand its NH network at a rapid pace.

    Nonetheless, it is essential that the concentration on expansion of the NH network alone cannot be permitted to sideline the need for high-quality maintenance of the existing NH network in the country.

    NITI Aayog Suggestion

    The ‘Strategy for New India@75’ put together by NITI Aayog in October 2018 has analysed the poor maintenance of existing NH infrastructure.

    According to the document, the annual outlay earmarked for maintenance and repair of national highway stretches is only about 40 per cent of the funds required. This is one of the main reasons for the inability to take up timely maintenance interventions.

    “Maintain NH assets by adopting a maintenance management system (MMS). Earmark funds from the Central Road Fund (CRF) for maintenance activities. India should begin with earmarking 10 per cent of its annual budget for road and highways for maintenance to move towards the developed country norm of earmarking 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the budget for roads and highways for maintenance,” noted the document as one of the ways forward for improvement of road maintenance and safety.

    The Suggestions

    Given the poor state of NHs often observed around the country and the direct adversary effect of the same on road safety as well as average speed of the traffic, the committee has asked the ministry/National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to put in efforts to ensure that routine maintenance and repair activities are carried out on NHs in a proactive manner, without waiting for the NHs to reach conditions that would require immediate intervention.

    The report also underscores the need for a data-driven regime. The committee has, hence recommended that a mechanism may be developed to quantify the condition of all NH stretches in an objective manner, using international standards as a benchmark for such quantification.

    The committee has also asked the ministry to earmark a much higher amount of allocation of funds for the M&R of NHs. As such, the ministry may re-evaluate its budgetary requirements under this head in order to materialise the enhanced focus on maintaining the existing NH network in the country in excellent condition.

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