MoRTH to seek Cabinet nod for townships, smart cities alongside highways

New Delhi, Jul 11 (Agency) The Road Transport and Highways Ministry (MoRTH) will seek the Cabinet’s approval for allowing construction of smart cities, townships, logistic parks and industrial clusters along the national highways, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Friday. Addressing a virtual event, Gadkari said his aim is to construct world-class highway networks and the road transport and highways ministry has chalked out a plan for monetising existing highways projects for infra capital generation.

‘And now we have prepared a Cabinet note for approval ….for making roadside townships, smart cities, logistic parks, industrial clusters,’ he said. ‘We are making 400 roadside amenities,’ Gadkari added. He said the road transport and highways ministry is now submitting a scheme for the second phase of Bharatmala Pariyojana that is more than 65,000 km to 70,000 km, and resolution of claims worth Rs 41,500 crore. ‘We are making parking plazas, logistic parks…we are now planning to make tunnels worth Rs 2.5 lakh crore,’ Gadkari said. Replying to a question on cost escalation of road projects, the minister said, ‘What you are telling me is correct, but I don’t know what are the contractual terms. We will refer to the contractual terms and then we will consider all these issues.’ Admitting that cost escalation of road projects is a serious issue, he asked contractors to submit their proposals to the ministry.

‘I am positive but we are also bound with the contract, we will try to find a way out for that,’ Gadkari said. On the recent trend of highway contractors quoting less than the bid price in many projects, the minister said he knows that many big contractors are very much annoyed because of some relaxations of bidding norms by the ministry. ‘There should be competition among contractors (for road projects). And this is also not true that those contractors who quote low prices for work, compromise with the quality of work,’ he said. According to the minister, contractors will have to reduce the cost of construction to survive.

‘Gone are days when there were 5-7 big (construction) companies, which used to make cartel and bag contracts… And I understand technical and financial qualification game plan,’ Gadkari, who is known for expressing views frankly, said. The minister asserted that there is no shortage of funds, people are waiting to invest in infrastructure projects. He said Delhi-Meerut Expressway is going to be inaugurated very soon. Gadkari said over Rs 1 lakh crore tunnel projects have been taken by the road transport and highways ministry. The minister lamented that contractors are not serious about the plantation along the National Highways. He pointed out that with multiple road safety interventions, there is a reduction in road accidents from the rate of 0.4 per lane per km in 2018 to 0.3 per lane per km in 2020.

According to Gadkari, NHAI targeted to raise Rs 5,000 crore through the infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs) with about Rs 2,000 crore from debt and Rs 3,000 crores from investors. He also said that MoRTH through NHAI is planning to raise Rs 1 lakh crore through monetization of highways under Toll-Operate-Transfer (TOT) model in the next five years. Gadkari also pointed out that monthly toll collection has reached Rs 2,000 crore per month, which is 80 per cent of pre COVID-19 level. The minister also said that his ministry is planning to construct tunnels worth Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Gadkari also said that the use of steel and cement should be reduced in road construction without compromising on quality through innovation and research. He said CNG, LNG and ethanol should be used for the road equipment machinery.

The minister emphasised on import substitution, cost-effective, pollution-free and indigenous methods and the development of alternative fuel. Gadkari said India with about 63 lakh km of road network is the second largest road network in the world. The government is investing 1.4 trillion dollars (Rs 111 lakh crores) in infrastructure development through National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), he added. The government has also increased year on year infrastructure capex by 34 per cent to Rs. 5.54 lakh crore this year, he said. Increased investment in infrastructure would help create employment during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. The minister said his aim is to construct a 60,000 km world-class national highway at the rate of 40 km per day.