Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plan to add 7,000 km of highways every year

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The government on Wednesday said it would accelerate the National Highway Development Programme by adding 7,000 km every year while planning for 15,000 km, reviewing the toll system, including exempting MPs from payment, and renumbering the highways.“We will build more roads this year than what was completed during the National Democratic Alliance government in five years,” Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath told the Rajya Sabha replying to a discussion.

Mr. Nath said one of the biggest challenges in completing the highways project was the issue of land acquisition and urged the members to impress upon the State governments to expedite it.

He said a special land acquisition unit was set up and effort was on for capacity building so that the target of 7,000 km a year or 20 km a day was achieved with the cooperation of State governments. On his part, the Minister was in touch with the Chief Ministers and State Ministers, since the States were stakeholders in the development of this infrastructure.

The government would accord priority to constructing roads in eight States affected by Naxalite violence.

In addition, plans were afoot to create a network of expressways and a draft report has been prepared by a consultant appointed by the Ministry on connecting key cities in the country.

Mr. Nath said another issue that was being addressed was the reluctance of bidders to go for projects. For instance, for the 60 proposed bids last year, there was no response to 38 bids and in the case of seven, there was only a single bidder. This problem was being looked into.

While toll is to be levied in perpetuity, the Minister promised to review the system after December this year following suggestions that Members of Parliament be exempted from the tax. Its structure would be rationalised and rounded off to speed up collection and a decision would be taken whether it should be collected on two-lane roads.

As for re-numbering, he said, the objective was to ensure that odd and even numbers signified the direction in which these highways ran instead of the current arrangement where the numbers jump.

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