Millennium Post

After this year’s bumpy ride, road sector hopes for a smoother 2014

While the ambitious 20 km a day road building programme of the UPA government remained a distant dream in the final year of the 5-year deadline, 2013 also saw change of guard with C P Joshi vacating the Road Minister's charge, making way for Oscar Fernandes who is optimistic that the sector will boom next year.

The year began with major infrastructure players like GVK, GMR exiting out of mega road contracts on account of problems such as delays in receiving the green nod, funding crunch and regulatory hurdles.

While the Road Ministry initiated a plethora of measures to attract bidders for its projects and prevent developers from abandoning road contracts midway, an apex court order delinking environment clearance from forest clearance paved the way for execution of stuck projects with investments of Rs 27,000 crore. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had sought Supreme Court intervention in the matter. That apart, corporates had a near showdown when the government gave approval to 'Quadricycle', a new category of four-wheeled vehicle, to ply on roads.

Many companies including Tata Motors opposed the proposal, as they were not ready with their prototypes. The proposal was revisited by the government and is yet to be finalised. As regards the Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill, the government could not get it passed during the year. The Bill proposes hefty penalty for traffic rule violations including drunken driving. Meanwhile, amid concerns over the reluctance of banks to give loans to infrastructure projects, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the Highways Ministry to refer the matter to the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.

Later in the year, the government approved a proposal for postponement of premium payments by highway developers in October and has referred the matter to a high-level panel, headed by PMEAC chairman C Rangarajan, for fine-tuning it.

Road Transport and Highways Minister Oscar Fernandes is confident that projects worth over Rs 1 lakh crore, which have been stuck for long, will start moving from next month as a concrete decision on the rescheduling of premium paid by developers is expected by the end of this month.

'I am hopeful that highway projects worth over Rs 1 lakh crore would be on stream next month onwards. The report of C Rangarajan Committee on premium rescheduling is likely to be accepted by month-end,' Fernandes said.
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