We are adding 17 km of roads every day: Oscar Fernandes

November 18, 2013

Interview with Union Minister for Road, Transport & Highways


The road ministry is on target to set up a road regulator before the next Parliament session is over. In an interview with Manu BalachandranOscar Fernandes, Union minister for road, transport and highways, talks about funding and other issues affecting the sector and the means to tackle them. Edited excerpts:

The prime minister on Monday reviewed the progress in the sector. Are all the projects on track?

We have reviewed the progress of projects and are on track as far as the number of projects are concerned. We are adding 17 km a day and that was the original target set by the ministry. The main concern is we are not finding bidders for new projects. Recently, when we invited bids for a number of projects, we were disappointed to find (that there were) no takers.

Private players have raised concerns about their participation in the road sector. How are you looking to address them?

First, there were some concerns about premium rescheduling. The finance ministry has set up a committee under C Rangarajan to decide on the premium to be paid and the terms and conditions for rescheduling. We will wait for its recommendation and then take a final decision. The government has also relaxed the exit norms for developers in road projects. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has also been very actively acquiring land, since banks do not fund projects to private sector if 90 per cent of the land is not acquired. We have speeded up acquisition and this year we have achieved double of what we had acquired last year.

The Northeast is strategically important to the country. But, developers and officials say projects there do not take off due to lack of security.

That isn’t true. We have an accelerated programme and I have been personally visiting the states to assess the pace of projects. On Sunday, I was in Tripura to evaluate a project. But the main problem is funding.

Banks are not willing to lend to projects, but the roads ministry and NHAI have been doing whatever we could to provide that. There is a plan to go abroad and showcase development prospects in India’s road sector. But, even if overseas companies are willing to invest, we have to ensure that land is acquired and various clearances are received. So, at this point, we are trying to ensure that the ingredients are in place. We will ensure that land acquisition and environmental clearance for projects are on track to make the sector lucrative.

Are we likely to see a road regulator in place this year? There are also talks about a proposed policy on auto recall after the General Motors incident?

With regard to the road regulator, we have a draft bill ready and are keen on passing it during the coming Parliament session itself. Road projects are often spread over a 20-25-year period and there might be various concerns that might be raised during the period. The regulator will essentially look at pre- and post-construction work and will look into areas such as contract dispute resolution. As far as vehicle recall is concerned, I do not think there is a need for any policy. Vehicle companies should take the effort to inspect the product and ensure quality before marketing the product. But that is the responsibility of the company and the government should not be party to that.

When can we expect a decision on Quadricycles?

A technical committee is currently studying all the concerns that were raised from various quarters. We can take a decision only after they come out with a report.



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