No smooth sailing for transport laws

The NDA government will have a daunting task addressing the several highway projects stuck owing to bottlenecks, and an increase in deaths due to road accidents.

A white paper on the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), brought by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways a couple of months ago, highlighted the sorry state of affairs in road-building activities in last few years.

In 2013-14, and 2014, the NHAI had targeted awarding of 8,000-km highway projects, but could award less than 3,000 km. Interestingly, 60 per cent road project awarded by the previous government was stranded due to disputes or midway desertion by contractors. Poor performance during the United Progressive Alliance regime was primarily attributed to delay in land acquisition and environment clearances, and the global economic slowdown.

Though Road Transport and Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari set the target of construction 8,500 km roads this year, and 30 km per day in the next two years, the government has to address several issues to meet the ambitious plan, including restructuring of cancelled projects, revival of stalled projects and integration of border check posts with toll plazas. 

Land acquisition for the project and getting green clearances are the most important task for the NDA government to expedite highway construction. Though Gadkari strongly pitched for amendment of the new Land Acquisition Act for early land acquisition, the government faced resistance from several quarters.

Despite the Centre planning to introduce the bill in the just-concluded Parliam­ent session, it was pulled due to resistance from the Opposition parties.  The government is also trying to simplify the process for early green cleara­n­ces.

Gadkari, who recently launched the electronic toll collection system on Delhi-Mumbai highway, plans to implement it in all highways in the country by 2015-end. Besides, the government plans to empower the NHAI to award projects of up to Rs 1,000 crore without seeking approval of various bodies, including the Planning Commission.

As the government is keeping its hopes high on the public-private partnership model for developing highways, it has to address some issues raised by private developers, like inc­reasing the threshold for proje­ct approval, enhanced int­e­r-ministerial coordination, fast-track disp­ute resolution and amendments to the model conc­ession agreement.

With road-accident deaths crossing 1.5 lakh per annum in the country — the highest in the world — there is pressure on the Centre to take immediate steps to address the issue.

The ministry, which proposes the Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014, to replace the existing Central Motor Vehicle Act, aims to reduce accidents by 50 per cent in the next two years. Though the proposed law will have several features like integrated vehicle registration and driving licensing system, and online payment of licences fees and permit charges, the challenge before the ministry is to approve this as it is facing strong resistance from states.

As the bill will have a provision to create an umbrella body—the National Transport Authority—for all transport-related issues, the states have objected that it would take away their rights in transport-related issues, including collection of permit charges from vehicles, which is a major sources of revenue for them.

Despite Gadkari announcing that the Centre is determined to bring the new laws in the interest of the country, it remains to be seen how the ministry takes the states on board.

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