Roads | Scorching pace

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Building roads and highways picked up speed in India in the 2000s. Now, the country has the second largest road network in the world, after the US

Zanskar Highway, an under-construction road in Leh, Sept. 23, 2021;(Photo: Getty Images)

At 75 years young, India boasts of a formidable road network—the second largest in the world—spanning 63 lakh km (Basic Road Statistics in India report, 2018-19). At the time of Independence, the country’s road network, which includes state and national highways (NH), and rural roads—was barely 4 lakh km. The pace of construction of roads and highways, according to government data, has gone up by 300 per cent in the past seven years. Now, India has 4.87 km of road for every 1,000 people.

At 75 years young, India boasts of a formidable road network—the second largest in the world—spanning 63 lakh km (Basic Road Statistics in India report, 2018-19). At the time of Independence, the country’s road network, which includes state and national highways (NH), and rural roads—was barely 4 lakh km. The pace of construction of roads and highways, according to government data, has gone up by 300 per cent in the past seven years. Now, India has 4.87 km of road for every 1,000 people.

During the 2007-2017 decade, the highest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) was of urban roads, followed by rural roads and national highways. But since late last year, there has been a decline in the pace of construction. It fell to its lowest in four years to 21.3 km per day during the April-November period of the fiscal year (FY) 2021. It was 24.8 km in the same period in FY20, and 24 km/day in FY19. From the Golden Quadrilateral project launched in 2001 to the ambitious Bharatmala project, which is aiming to build 50 new national corridors, among other projects, roads and highways have been one of the most resilient sectors even during the pandemic. But the challenge for the sector has been to bring private players into road and highway construction. Land acquisition continues to be a challenge too—Bharatmala, for instance, has been running behind schedule. Its first phase is likely to be completed by 2025-26.

Private sector investment in road construction in 2020-21 and 2019-20 was Rs 12,475 crore and Rs 21,925 crore, respectively. Until November 2021, private sector investment in it was Rs 15,164 crore. The big challenge is to retain the momentum of construction, bring investments into the sector that has largely relied on government spends and further streamline land acquisition processes. Public and private investments grew at a CAGR of 21.8 per cent between 2012-13 and 2016-17, but the share of private sector investment in the construction of national highways went down from 48.35 per cent in 2012-13 to 17.37 per cent in 2016-17, while public sector investment increased from 51.65 per cent in 2012-13 to 82.63 per cent in 2016-17.


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At the time of Independence, the total length of national highways was 21,378 km which is now over 1.40 lakh km. National highways are about 2.3 per cent of total road network. They carry about 40 per cent of the road traffic.

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