Bumps in road funding to be eased

December 3, 2009

NEW DELHI: The government is exploring ways to improve flow of funds to developers executing road projects by making funding of such projects
attractive for financial institutions, including insurance companies.

The panel on highway development, headed by the Planning Commission member BK Chaturvedi, is now working on the second part of its report on expediting work on the ambitious National Highways Development Project (NHDP).

“We have sorted out funding issues of the NHAI through cess and government guarantees, at least for one year. Now we have to look at the issue of financing of people who are building the roads,” Mr Chaturvedi said in an exclusive chat with ET.

The government has already accepted Chaturvedi panel’s recommendations on relaxing the norms for public-private projects (PPPs) in the road sector, continued funding of National Highways Authority of India through road cess collection and government guarantee for its borrowings.

The government has set a target of constructing 7,000 km of road annually, which translates into building 20 km of roads a day. It is planning to hand out contracts for nearly 12,000 km of highways to private developers in the next one year.

“We are examining what kind of safeguards are required to make insurance companies lend to road projects,” he said, adding that they would want the government to share risk and also give guarantees that the debts would be repaid.
The panel is still in the process of collecting information from the industry and other parties concerned and hopes to finish its report by January-end.

The government has decided to guarantee NHAI’s borrowing for the current year. The financing of NHAI in the years to come is yet to be decided. “ The empowered group of ministers set up on road financing will look at how the funding requirements of NHAI will be handled in the following years,” Mr Chaturvedi said.

Although NHAI does involve the private sector to fund projects through the build operate and transfer (BOT) mode of finance, it has its own financing needs as well.

NHAI has to invest in all projects carried on EPC or cash contract basis, which is the standard financing format in the North East and J&K where private players are not too keen to take risks because they are commercial unviable in these areas.

NHAI has to make some investments even in projects that are handed out to private road developers through the build operate transfer (BOT) basis to the extent of making them commercially viable, through what is called viability gap funding.

It has to pay an annual annuity to developers under the BOT annuity option and provide capital grant to increase viability of projects under the BOT toll option where private developers are allowed to collect toll for recovering costs and earning profits.
Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com

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