Never before has the scope of the roads sector been enhanced as with the current government, and under the ministership of Nitin Gadkari. Today, the National highways — which accounted for anywhere between 55,000-70,000 km out of 3.5 million km of roadways in India — has been expanded to account for around 2 lakh km. This has become possible because roads that used to belong to the state have now been taken over by the central government.
What the present government did was to set up norms that would help decide which road should be treated as a national highway and which as a state roadway. The most critical parameter is the passenger car unit (PCU) count. If the count crosses a certain level, that roadway gets classified as a national highway.
When a state roadway gets reclassified as a national highway, two things happen. First, the entire maintenance budget for the highway moves from the state to the centre. Second, since the centre takes away a highway that used to belong to the state earlier, you know that it is only a matter of time that this road will be widened to become a 4-6 lane highway. All of a sudden the centre’s pie for road development and maintenance has expanded manifold.
At the same time, unlike as in the past, the government has focused on building all weather roads – often using tunneling as one major solution – in the north and northeast of the country. Earlier any planners had thought of building bridges. But environmental concerns, and security together tilted the scales in favour of tunneling – even though the cost of construction would be higher.
When combined with the government’s plans to develop waterways and coastal routes (including the promotion of coastal tourism) the Bharatmala and the Sagarmala have both combined to give a boost to unleasing much of the potential that exists in India. That is certainly something to be bullish about, if you are in the business of building and looking after roads.