Transforming Highways Sector Through Digitisation

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has been working consistently on improving internal processes through various digital initiatives to reduce cost and time of construction, says Amit Ghosh, Joint Secretary, Highways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India in conversation with Gautam Debroy of Elets News Network (ENN).

What are the major initiatives that have been taken to improve the Highway Sector in the recent past?

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways achieved the highest ever award of 51,073 km of National Highway projects and highest ever construction of 28,531 km over a four year period from 2014-5 to 2017-18. Construction of National Highways has more than doubled from 12 km /day in 2014-15 to 27 km/day in 2017-18 and the total investments in the sector has increased by 2.5 times compared to 2014-15. This significant leap in the National Highways award and construction was achieved through multiple policy initiatives taken by the Ministry. Major policy initiatives like delegation of power, increased threshold for project appraisal and approval and enhanced inter-ministerial coordination etc, on process streamlining facilitated this growth. Languishing Projects revived – 73 projects of length around 8,310 km revived through policy interventions like allowing 100% equity divestment for developers two years after start of operations , premium deferment in stressed projects – allows rescheduling of premium committed by concessionaires during bid stage, Rationalized compensation to concessionaires for languishing NH projects in BOT mode for delays not attributable to concessionaires and One-time fund infusion.

Innovative project implementation models -developed and put to use.

a) Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM) – In the model, 40% project cost is provided by the Government as ‘Construction Support’ and balance 60% as annuity payments during operations period with interest (Bank Rate +3.00%). Separate provision for O&M payments to concessionaire. The private party does not have to bear the traffic and inflation risks. The model has been widely accepted by the market.

b) Toll – Operate – Transfer (TOT) Model – approved and implemented. In the Model, collection rights for Toll Fees for operational public funded NH projects is assigned for a 30-year concession period to concessionaires against upfront payment of a lump-sum amount. O&M obligations are with the concessionaire during the concession period. First round of bid completed at NHAI for TOT projects – bundle of 9 project stretches (length 680 km) bid out. H1 bidder quoted concession fee of Rs 9,681.5 cr (against NHAI estimated Rs 6,258 Cr). DPR preparation is in progress for TOT project bundles 2,3 and 4 at NHAI.

The various policy decisions have been supported by transformation and optimisation of various processes within the ministry and NHAI for preconstruction, construction and maintenance stages to improve quality, reduce construction time and cost. The changes include mandating use of technology in preparation of DPRs, delegation of powers, streamlining of land acquisition process, Independent engineer/ authority engineer reforms, performance management system at NHAI, deployment of manpower from headquarters to field, revision of selection and payment criteria for DPR consultants, use of standard spans for structures, time-bound and online approval of GADs etc.

You have initiated Bharatamala for an overall highway infrastructure development. Tell us something about that.

Bharatmala Pariyojana is an umbrella programme for the highways sector that focuses on optimizing efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps through effective interventions like development of Economic Corridors, Feeder Routes and Inter Corridors, National Corridor Efficiency Improvement, Border and International Connectivity Roads, Port connectivity and Coastal Roads and Expressways. A total of 24,800 kms new interventions are being considered in Phase-I. In addition, Phase-I will also include 10,000 km of balance road works under the National Highways Development Project (NHDP), taking the total to a length of 34,800 kms of National Highways.

Bharatmala is envisaged to provide NH connectivity to 550 districts, and will be a major driver for economic growth in the country. Currently, only around 300 districts are connected with National Highways. It is proposed to increase the national corridors from existing 6 to 50. Due to this, it is expected that about 70 – 80 percent of freight will move over the NHs as against about 40 percent at present. Bharatmala is expected to have a positive impact on the Logistic Performance Index (LPI) of the country.

The programme has been designed to bridge the gaps in the existing highway infrastructure so as to make the movement of men and material more efficient. Special attention has been paid to fulfil the connectivity requirements of backward and tribal areas, areas of economic activity, places of religious and tourist interest, border areas, coastal areas and international connectivity routes with neighbouring countries. Apart from this, one objective of the programme is to help generate direct and indirect employment at a large scale in the infrastructure sector along with ensuring development of highway amenities and better road connectivity thereby enhancing economic activity in different parts of the country. Phase-I is to be implemented over a period of five years i.e. between 2017-18 and 2021-22 in a phased manner.

What challenges do you face in the Highway sector?

With the inspiring leadership of our Hon’ble Minister we were able to overcome major challenges in the sector and bring in reforms that have helped the National Highways sector. In the beginning of 2014, the entire National Highways sector was bleeding and private investment was almost nonexistent and the sector was staring at lot of projects turning into NPAs. Timely policy interventions supported by innovative models such as Hybrid Annuity has revitalised the sector and private investments. The total investments in the sector have increased 2.5 times compared to 2014-15 which is a sign of strong growth in the sector. Various issues pertaining to land acquisition have also been addressed which was a major bottleneck for highway projects. Having said that, the Ministry is open to suggestions and continuously striving to improve internal processes, reduce congestion at toll plazas, reduce cost of construction, improve quality and accelerate construction.

Tell us something about National Road Transport Strategy 2030.

With the objective to understand the future transportation requirements for both passenger and freight transportation along with improving productivity of our assets, improve efficiency, introduce alternative fuels for road transportation, leveraging digital technologies and introduction of new road transportation technologies, the Ministry has undertaken a study to prepare a National Road Transportation Strategy 2030. The study is currently in progress. Under this study, the forecast for freight and passenger movement requirements till 2030 will be used to arrive at the strategy along with estimation of capital investments required.

What special emphasis you have laid on the Northeast states?

Under Bharatmala pariyojana, more than 3,000 kms of economic corridors are to be developed in the North East alone covering major cities in the North East. Additionally, various feeder routes, inter-corridor routes, national corridors, ring-roads, bypasses, border roads, international connectivity with Bhutan and Bangladesh to promote trade would be developed under Bharatmala. To promote international trade with neighbouring countries, a Multi-Modal Logistics Park is proposed to be developed at Jogighopa in Assam where the State Government has already confirmed land availability and the DPR is in progress.

What is your take on the border roads especially along the eastern sector?

Under Bharatmala, around 3,300 kms of border roads of strategic importance have been identified to be built along the international boundaries and around 2,000 kms of roads are required for connecting India’s major highway corridor to International trade points so as to facilitate Export-Import (EXIM) trade with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Out of this, around 2,000 kms have been included in the plan for Phase-I of Bharatmala. Other border roads are developed and maintained by Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

What IT initiatives have you taken in the Highway sector?

To achieve the ambitious targets set by our Hon’ble Minister, MoRTH has been continuously working on improving internal processes through various digital initiatives to reduce cost and time of construction. Following are some of the major initiatives:

(i) Project Monitoring and Information System (PMIS) To ensure timely delivery of projects, a state-of-the-art Project Monitoring Information System (PMIS), has been developed in-house. A series of Executive Dashboards have been designed to provide updated progress on all these data fields, at various levels, such as national, Regional Office (RO) level, Project Implementation Unit (PIU) level and project level. An in-built algorithm automatically highlights focus projects with key pending issues, so that focused interventions for these projects can be discussed during these reviews. Apart from dashboards views of data, the PMIS is also enabled with Geographical Information System (GIS), which provides a geographical visualization of all NHAI projects on an India map.

(ii) Integrated Technology Solution (ERP): MoRTH has initiated implementation of an ERP solution to digitally integrate all systems and processes across MoRTH, NHAI and NHIDCL including all the regional offices. Through this ERP solution, MoRTH aims to integrate more than 60 softwares and tools on a single platform along with digitization of over 30 lakh documents. The project is expected to be completed within two years and improve process efficiency and transparency.

(iii) Infracon: In order to make the evaluation process during procurement of consultancy firms more objective, user friendly and transparent, “INFRACON” has been developed by NHIDCL as a comprehensive National Portal for infrastructure consultancy firms and key personnel. The portal has the facility to host firms and personnel CVs and credentials online and has linkage to Aadhaar and Digilocker for data validation and purity.

(iv) Inam-pro: INAM-Pro (Platform for Infrastructure and Materials Providers) is a web based application for Infrastructure and Materials Providers and would act as a common platform for Infrastructure material providers viz. Cement Companies, Steel Companies Infrastructure providers, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and other stakeholders.

(v) Electronic Toll Collection: To reduce congestion at toll plazas, MoRTH has fast-tracked the implementation of Electronic Toll Collection through Fastags. It has now been decided to equip all the Toll Plaza lanes with gantry mounted ETC Infrastructure and installation of Weigh-in-Motion (WIMs) systems in about 50% of the lanes. The NHAI has been vigorously pursuing the provision of ETC infrastructure on all the lanes, the target for installation of ETC infrastructure on all lanes of the balance Toll Plazas is December 2018. As on 26th July, 2018, a total of 25.99 Lakh Fastags have been issued, up from 60,000 fastags in December 2016, with more than 20 percent of the collections being received through ETC.

(vi) Sukhad Yatra: Interactive mobile application to empower National Highways user with relevant information. Key modules includes receive real-time toll plaza waiting time, report any highway related incident or provide feedback on highway quality, explore highway details and related amenities and purchase FASTag.

(vii) Bidder Information Management System (BIMS): MoRTH has developed the Bidder Information Management System (BIMS) to streamline the process of pre-qualification of bidders for EPC/HAM/BOT mode of contracts for all National Highway works and other Centrally sponsored works with enhanced transparency and objectivity. The BIMS portal will be operated in conjunction with the CPPP portal for invitation of bids for civil works for EPC mode and significantly reduce time for assessment of pre-qualification.

(viii) Bhoomi-Rashi: Land acquisition is critical for the commencement and completion of construction, which begins once alignment plan and land acquisition plan is approved. Bhoomi Rashi is now being widely adopted for issuing the notifications, and more than 900 notifications have been issued using the portal so far. Bhoomi Rashi portal has been instrumental in reducing the time taken for approval and publication of notifications pertaining to land acquisition. With integration of Bhoomi Rashi with PFMS, users of MoRTH have the provision of making payments to the beneficiaries directly through the portal.

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