Winds Of Change
Construction Week|September 2019
As a bureaucrat, Nagendra Nath Sinha, chairman of NHAI and MD of NHIDCL, is used to dealing with challenges even when they come unannounced
Jayashree Kini Mendes

There’s no room for anxiety and doubt in Nagendra Nath Sinha’s schedule. As chairman of NHAI and MD of NHIDCL, Sinha has his work cut out for him. Considering that the government has accorded the highest priority to infrastructure development, it’s not only road building that takes up his time. The country’s enigmatic geography and equally its people come much in the way when the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is looking at constructing thousands of kilometres of roads. But the indefatigable bureaucrat is undeterred.

For the last two years, Sinha has held the portfolio of MD of National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL). In March, he was entrusted with the additional responsibility of chairman of NHAI. While Sinha is not complaining, what he would like is a sense of order that will ensure quick work. Over the last couple of years, the ambitious plans to construct 40km of roads per day has largely remained unfulfilled as the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has constantly been stymied with a sluggish land acquisition process. Sinha says, “There is a vision that NHAI and contractors and landowners should set up a system so that their systems and ours work together. There is a dire need to constantly update the work done on the ground, thus eliminating all kinds of disputes – including those that involve parties arguing about different levels of deployment. In the case of contractors, this could relate to material or machinery required to build a road.”

IN THE FAST LANE

As an organisation, both NHAI and NHIDCL have matured. For Sinha, who has been constructing border roads as NHIDCL MD and surmounted intractable development issues, the systems of NHAI and its authority are a breeze, have been set and cannot be overruled. The nodal agency that has for years been developing and maintaining India’s roads & highways, is now moving swiftly on an asset monetisation drive. It has sought request for proposals for empanelment of agencies for preparation/submission of report on inventory of highway assets, and assessing physical condition of the existing national highway stretches under consideration for award on toll-operate transfer (ToT) model. Sinha says, “The ToT model was approved by the government in 2016 for monetisation of publicly-funded highways. Under this, investors make a one-time lump sum payment in exchange for long-term toll collection rights. NHAI has created an inventory of projects of around 600km of stretches traversing through Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab that could be offered in a ToT bundle. We are calling experts to create an inventory of projects in the future.”

According to him, it is the “push” from the highest quarters of the government to go big on the asset monetisation drive. “We have already studied road stretches of around 5,000km to be offered on the ToT model, and could potentially monetise around15,000km of road stretches by 2025,” he added. NHAI had invited bids for ToT in June for a cumulative 566km of highway stretches in Bihar, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh with a floor price set at Rs 4,995 crore. The first round of ToT auctions got the government Rs 9,681 crore against the initial estimated concession value (IECV) of Rs 6,258 crore set by the government. In its latest bundle of ToT projects, about 27 companies have evinced interest for which the IECV or reserve price is Rs 4,995.48 crore. The last date of bid submission is September 11. Under the model, the highest bidder wins the right to operate and maintain highway assets for 30 years.

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