At a recent conference on “Road Development in India” organised by India Infrastructure, Sanjay Jaju, director, administration and finance, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), spoke about the status of road development in the Northeast, upcoming opportunities in the region and new areas of growth. Excerpts…
The reach of big schemes such as the National Highways Development Programme to the north-eastern region has been fairly limited. This has highlighted the need for a region-specific programme or organisation to bridge the connectivity divide between the Northeast and other parts of the country. In this context, the role of organisations such as NHIDCL assumes great importance. At the same time, we have also realised that when we start road construction, eventually infrastructure development also takes place and one sees an improvement in local employment.
In the three years since its incorporation, NHIDCL has launched projects worth Rs 300 billion in the north-eastern region, Jammu & Kashmir, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In terms of length, about 10,000 km of road projects are at various stages of inception and implementation. The majority of these are being implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction basis. Projects in Jammu & Kashmir are recent entrants to the corporation’s portfolio and span a length of over 1,000 km. Notable projects in the state include the Z-Morh tunnel and the Zojila tunnel projects. Besides, NHIDCL is planning to construct another six tunnels in the state.
Besides these, some of the projects which I would like to highlight, that have a huge role in terms of shaping cross-border ties, are our projects in Mizoram and Myanmar. In Mizoram we are building a Rs 60 billion project which is going to connect north Mizoram to the southern part of the state, and provide onward connectivity to the Kaladan multimodal hub in Myanmar. The project will also provide connectivity to Sittwe port in Myanmar through Mizoram to the entire north-eastern region. The project has been cleared by the cabinet recently. Another key upcoming project entails the development of the Imphal-Moore section which is a part of the Trilateral Highway that is going to connect India to Myanmar and Thailand. Other landmark projects that the corporation is in the process of implementing entail the construction of bridges across the Feni river in Tripura and the Mechi river in north Bengal. Notably, several big contractors have started to evince interest in these projects.
Road construction in the Northeast faces region-specific issues. Contractors have a working season of only four to five months since it rains for over seven months in a year. Moreover, in addition to the construction of roads, special emphasis needs to be laid on slope stabilisation and cross-drainage structures. NHIDCL ensures this through the provision of adequate financial resources and sharing knowledge on innovative technological models. Meanwhile, the corporation ensures that it bids out projects after all the regulatory clearances are in place and 100 per cent land has been acquired.
In most of the projects that have been bid out in the past, the costs of soil stabilisation and cross-drainage works account for Rs 30 million-Rs 40 million per km. This is being done keeping in mind that the road will serve commuters for over 50 years. With regard to innovative technologies, at NHIDCL we are looking at alternative methods of pavement design which do not just include soil stabilisation measures but also take into account in-situ stabilisation of the surface. These technologies are cost-effective and environment-friendly.
Going forward, the pace of construction in the Northeast and border and strategic areas will get further accelerated. We also expect a lot of advancements in terms of newer technologies. The online platform INAMPro is a welcome step for all the technology and material providers to list themselves and offer their products to a wide range of users. The portal has been created to bridge the the divide between contractors and material suppliers. Initially, it started with cement but now it has been upgraded to cater to the entire spectrum of requirements in the infrastructure domain. NHIDCL has a number of projects on the anvil. Essentially, road development does not just play a role in improving connectivity for the region but has a multiplier effect in terms of stepping up employment and growth opportunities.