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BW Businessworld

DAILY EDIT: Driving Together

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The White Paper on National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) confirms the problems that have almost halted road building. From over 20 km of highway construction, the daily target fell to 3 km per day during the previous government’s regime. The white paper has sharply indicted the lack of coordination between ministries for the delay in road projects.
It has rightly sought further autonomy for NHAI.

Autonomy itself will not be enough to make NHAI more efficient. NHAI is a unique body that is responsible for a critical need of the economy but doesn’t have its own cadre. More than 80 per cent of NHAI officers are on deputation to the organization. As a result, NHAI officers can’t be expected to have a long term stake in the outcomes of their decisions. Also, frequent change in the officers means that there is little continuity in the interaction of NHAI with its private sector concessionaires. Problems that crop up are postponed or decisions not taken in time.

The government will have to infuse NHAI with talent which remains with it. This is will bring NHAI in line with other state owned organisations like National Thermal Power Corporation and BHEL that have their dedicated team.

Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to force closer coordination between Ministries of Finance, Environment, and Highways to expedite decisions. Out of 332 road projects, more than 189 are stuck in disputes with little or no support from ministries, says the white paper. India can’t afford turf wars between ministries. India can’t afford a weak and inefficient road maker too.