Build, But Take Care – Fast-paced highway expansion is being undermined by quality issues. This needs to be addressed

Source: The post is based on the article “Build, But Take Care – Fast-paced highway expansion is being undermined by quality issues. This needs to be addressed” published in The Times of India on 20th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS – 3: storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints.

Relevance: About India’s fast-paced highway expansion.

News: The government’s commitment to upgrading road infrastructure has resulted in the expansion of the National Highway (NH) stock from 91,287 km on March 31, 2014, to 1. 45 lakh km at the end of February 2023.

The government spent in 2021-22 about Rs 2. 2 lakh crore on roads, with the centre contributing over 90%. Though, the prioritisation and investment into roads are widely acknowledged, the NH programme has an unaddressed issue.

What is the challenge associated with India’s fast-paced highway expansion?

The challenges include a) tolls are being levied when the NH work hadn’t entirely been completed, b) the NH being inundated with rains suggesting the lack of drainage facilities entitled to NH projects, c) greenfield projects like the Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway faces few other challenges, d) Underspending on maintenance of NH projects: This is due to overwhelming emphasis is on expansion of NH projects. This will downgrade their quality and decrease India’s economic competitiveness. For example, the government has said that annual budgetary outlay for maintenance and repairs is only about 40% of the estimated need as per its own norms, and e) Most of the expansion has come by reclassifying or upgrading state roads as NH. For example, from 2017-18 to January 31, 2023, about 28,517 km of state roads have been brought under the NH portfolio.

What should be done along with fast-pacing highway expansion?

The user charges from toll collections from NHs in 2021-22 amount to around Rs 35,000 crores. The amount should be prioritised for effective maintainence of NH stock.

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