What IT initiatives have been taken by the Department of Road, Transport and Highways?
The use of IT in this Ministry was already pretty high. Now the Ministry has come up with an idea of Business Information Management System (BIMS) which allows the bidder to upload his technical bidding online. These bids are then examined and the bidder gets a certificate that all the documents have been uploaded online properly. The system automatically examines everything. This way, we have minimised the human interference in the process. The system has the ability to reject a bid if all the documents are not complete which saves time and make the system more transparent. By this month, all the tendering process will go online.
What is your take on the Digital India initiative of the Government of India?
A conscious decision has been taken this year that all the files will now be converted into electronic files. In our Ministry, all the documentation is quite high as we are dealing with detailed project reports, financial reports, etc. To examine these reports entirely online is difficult. We are trying to find solution for this. All simpler files are already in digital form and we work on them through e-office. The Ministry of Shipping is entirely on e-office. There is hardly any physical file there. We hope to overcome problems in our Ministry also. We will be going entirely digital in the near future.
What initiatives have you taken to decrease the road accidents?
Training of drivers, people, road designing, the engineering aspect of transportation, all things have to be taken into account for road safety. As immediate measures, steps like footover bridges, underpasses, changing design to cross a highway easily, are going on. Efforts like driver training schools are being funded by the Government of India to a large extent. States have already started these schools and once they become totally functional, we hope that the training of drivers can be taken care of. Once the drivers are aware of the security measures they should take, we think the situation will improve.
The Right of A Pedestrian should also be taken care of. There is no concept of u turn in developed countries. But in our country, especially in villages, they take wrong side of the road. These things need to change. Providing service lanes is like creating infrastructure twice, so they require proper planning. The segregation of highways is very important. We have to put barriers on the sides, we have to educate people. We recently had a road safety week and was participated by a lot of NGOs and people from across the country.
What initiatives have you taken for the development of North Eastern part of the country?
Apart from creating the connectivity within the Northeast like the Trans Arunachal highway, there are many other roads travelling across the Seven Sisters which are connecting places from south to north, which is very critical keeping in mind the international borders there. Quick supplies to people living there is also very important. Our roads are now reaching close to the border and their development has been divided in phases. In the second phase, the roads will reach the last villages across the border. Lot of projects are also going on in other States as well. Improvement of roads, say from Silchar to Imphal has been done at a very rapid pace.
Permanent bridges are being constructed in the hilly areas. Suspension and wooden bridges are getting replaced. The ‘Look East Policy’ and the ‘Act East Policy’ is being emphasised upon. The focus is on asian highway work. The highway between India, Myanmar and Thailand is an important area which we are developing. Myanmar’s 369 bridges are being built afresh by India. A totally Greenfield road from Imphal to Moreh in Meghalaya is in the pipeline which will reduce the distance between these two places by 20 km. The present road is very steep in certain areas where bigger lorries cannot go. The new road will enable the transportation of all the vehicles.
What challenges do you face in implementing projects?
We face challenges of the land, encroachments, removal of shops, facilities like water supply, electricity line, etc. The new Land Acquisition Act has made it extremely difficult to acquire land although under the National Highways Act we have our own authority to acquire land. From State to State, there is a different story. We find that in some states when we try to acquire the land, the State Revenue officials declare the land as commercial making it costly to acquire them. If the cost of land acquisition has been reasonable, we would utilise our resources in more projects.
How are you finding this new assignment of the Department of Road, Transport and Highways, having worked in some other important ministries earlier?
You might call it a role reversal. From Ministry of Home Affairs, to the point of internal security from the point of neighbourhood, I use to demand roads, list out the areas where roads are necessary and must be built but that was from the security point of view. Now that I am here, I am facilitating the road building. From demand supply, I have come to the supply side.