Construction of national highways (NHs) in NDA’s over four-year rule has risen by 26% at 31,000 km compared to UPA-2’s 24,425 km in five years. However, under both the governments, most of the work was linked to strengthening and widening of existing highways to two lanes.
Highway ministry officials said the construction figure for NDA’s full term would touch at least 39,000 km by March-end, which would be a 60% rise over the 2009-2014 tally. While the share of strengthening of existing highways and widening of NHs to two-and-a-half lanes (two lanes plus paved shoulder) during NDA was about 76% of the total highway development work, it was nearly 60% during UPA-2.
Strengthening of road involves dense carpeting and other treatment of identified stretches after assessing the deficiencies. In this case, the existing road is not widened but is improved to handle increased traffic load for the next 5-10 years. Under the two-laning programme, narrow roads are widened to at least two lanes with paved shoulder. As of now, nearly 75% of the 1.3 lakh km NH network in India is either of two lanes or less.
Government data showed that during UPA-2, about 16,650 km out of the total 24,455 km constructed fell under the strengthening and two-laning categories. During NDA rule, strengthening and two-laning put together had a share of about 23,570 km out of the approximately 31,000 km built till June-end.
“We had the highest ever record of building four-lane highways in 2017-18 at 2,200 km and this year, it will be more than 3,000 km. Four-laning of highways had slowed down during the first two years of this government as there was a sudden withdrawal of highway builders, who had bagged projects under public private partnership during the earlier government. The land acquisition law also created problems. We had to find solutions to revive the sector and accelerate the construction,” a government official said.
National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) primarily widens NHs to four lanes while the road transport ministry executes strengthening and two-laning of highways through state public works departments. Officials said two-lane highways were enough to meet the requirement in hilly states while even in the plains, such roads in good condition could cater to 15,000 vehicles a day.
For long, there has been a debate whether national highways should be of at least four lanes to give them a different identity from other roads. However, due to increased political demand to convert more and more roads into NHs, about three-fourths of the NH network are still either of two lanes or less. In fact, the Centre cannot invest or plan upgrade of a road until it is notified as an NH.