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19 Jan, 2012

Transparency Has Drawn More Investors to Road Projects


Excerpts from speech by Dr. C.P. Joshi, Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2012, Jaipur.

India’s economy has grown rapidly in the last few years and we are increasingly addressing the key constraints in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture, health and education.

Inclusive growth is essential so that fruits of development reache to the most marginalized sections of the society. The 12th plan, has also adopted “Faster, sustainable and inclusive growth: as the plan objective. The approach paper to the 12th plan terms inclusiveness as a multi-dimensional concept, achievement of which requires multiple interventions spread across various sectors. Good quality infrastructure has been recognized as a critical component for ensuring investment in remote or backward areas. All-weather roads, power, irrigation, connectivity to air/sea/rail links etc. are the infrastructure works that trigger development.

Road or highway development fosters inclusive growth. It promotes overall development of the region, provides direct/indirect employment to skilled/semi-skilled and even unskilled workers all along the region served by the highway. A study on the “Socio-economic Impact of National Highway on Rural Population”, conducted for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) by the Asian Institute of Transport Development on National Highway (NH)-2 found that proximity to the highway has significant influence on major aspects of socio-economic wellbeing of the rural population.

Greater opportunities of employment and earnings in non-farms activities are generated. Access to education and health facilities improves. Household incomes rise and so do asset holdings. Poor rural households living in its vicinity, including SCs/STs, women and other weaker sections, also derive considerable benefits.

The immediate net benefits of the upgraded highway mostly relate to improvement in access to work and educational opportunities. The study concluded that this is borne out by three-fold increase in the share of income from non-agricultural activities, 85 per cent increase in female labour participation, two fold increases in per capita trip rate for education; and about 50 percent increase in school enrolment. In the long run, the net benefits are most likely to emerge in other aspects of well-being as the role of the four lane highway becomes more relevant for the rural population living in its proximity.

As you might be aware, the Government of India embarked on a massive highway development programme, the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP). Seeds of NHDP were sown more than two decades ago with the promulgation of the NHAI Act 1988. Thus, when India went the way of liberalization in the early 90s, the regulation and structure was already in place to drive the highway development programme.

The economic realities of India, it should be understood, are different. Inclusive growth remains an idea for planners to cite as an objective. Vast population with historical inequalities, ignorance which was institutionalized since ancient times, and, a society just beginning to mature in a socio-political sense have contributed to this state of affairs even after two decades of growth, post liberalization.

NHDP, therefore, adopted an incremental approach to achieve inclusive growth. In the initial phase NHDP targeted development of Golden Quadrilateral and North South – East West corridors which would provide connectivity to all four metros and cardinal points in the country. The next stage under NHDP Phase III, which is now under execution, envisaged connectivity to Golden Quadrilateral and North-South & East west Corridors for state capitals, important tourist and industrial destinations, high density traffic corridors etc. The emphasis was on development of a grid of high class road network. NHDP Phase IV, the next stage, will target the interior and backward regions, turning the grid into a well woven network of inter connected roadways.

Given the importance of road development in bringing about inclusive growth, the next step is to device measures that will sustain the existing momentum of highway development. Since taking over this Ministry, I have initiated a few measures that I hope will go a long way in meeting this objective. Recognizing that we need a large bank of highway projects to sustain the development, one of my earliest priorities was to inject urgency in completion of Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) or Feasibility studies for about 15,000 km length of projects.

Today, I am happy to say that apart from meeting our target for award of about 7,300 km length of highway project this year, we will be in a position to fix a similar high target for award next year also.

All of you are aware of the role of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in highway development. I do not intend to dwell in detail on PPP and its impact on highway development. Suffice it to say that we initiated measures to increase transparency in bidding process through introduction of Annual Pre-qualification and e-tendering, which in my opinion has encouraged more investors to enter this sector. We have been overwhelmed by the response to each project bid out both in terms of number of bidders as well as the competitiveness of bids.

I am happy to announce that NHAI has received record premiums this year. In fact 20 projects out of 28 awarded upto November in the current fiscal fetched premium of about Rs.2146 crores.

It gives me immense pleasure to also inform you that the NHAI has come up with the Public Issue of Tax Free Bonds for the 1st time. The issue has received overwhelming response with the collection in 1st day itself being over rupees 23000 crore against base issue size of rupees 5,000 crore.

Till 31st December 2011, NHAI received total application money of Rs.24,283 crore. Under Category–I (Qualified investing Byer) and category-II (high net worth investors) the application money received was Rs.15443 & Rs.8212 crore respectively and the collection under retail investor bucket was Rs.628 crore. The success is attributed to the huge interest shown by the Investors for investing in NHAI.

I firmly believe that empowerment of the people is one of the ways of ushering inclusiveness. Empowerment arises from access to information leading to diffusion of knowledge about laws, rights and entitlements accruing from public services. This in turn results in demands for greater accountability and in terms of road sector – better delivery of related public services. Towards this end, we entered the domain of social networking through Facebook and road users can now post their queries/complaints on the NHAI Facebook wall which will ensure a prompt action on such complaints. Often gains of development are frittered away through inadequate or poor follow up measures.

Highway sector until recently, suffered from the same inadequacy as maintenance of highways left much to be desired. NHDP has, thankfully, changed this scenario, even though more requires to be done in this regard. We have however taken the first step towards a paradigm shift in the approach to maintenance. We have decided to adopt a pro-active approach rather than a reactive approach to maintenance.

A form of PPP in maintenance through OMT based concessions is set to revolutionize maintenance of highways and we hope to award about 3,000 kms for maintenance through OMT concessions, shortly.

To my Pravasi brothers and sisters, my message today is simple — Opportunities abound in the highway sector. In fact Pravasi capital has a safe and secure avenue for investment in this sector. With a huge shelf of projects for award, developers require finance to take up these projects and the medium of PPP is an ideal mode to channel investment into this sector. The Government has also promoted an environment to facilitate such investment in road sector. 100 % FDI is permitted in road sector. We have comprehensive agreements to avoid double taxation with a large number of countries.

Modern financial systems, sound banking network and a robust economy are compelling reasons to invest in your mother country. As I said earlier, we have introduced transparent systems and simple and flexible structures for promoting Public Private Partnership in road sector. Currently we have more than 100 consortiums engaged in execution of PPP projects. I believe this is the right opportunity for Pravasi Indians to contribute to our effort to promote inclusive growth. I invite you to be partners in this process.