2021 Ahead: Government sets focus on expanding road infrastructure, more electric vehicles
New Delhi, Dec 24: After striving to turn the pandemic-induced "crisis into an opportunity" with ongoing construction of tunnel roads in tough terrains and critical infrastructure, the government will step on the gas in the new year for massive penetration of electric vehicles as well as expansion of road networks.
From Kailash Mansarovar route to Zojila tunnel to Lipulekh pass, massive construction works in the country's roads and highways sector are either in progress or launched or have been completed during the coronavirus pandemic-ravaged 2020.
In the words of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, the driving force behind roadways expansion and numerous infrastructure development projects, the government decided to turn the crisis due to the pandemic into an opportunity.
The total length of national highways is currently around 1,34,400 kilometres and the aim is to add another 60,000 kilometres in five years' time.
As the globe battled COVID-19, "we decided to turn it (crisis) into an opportunity and massive work could be done in tough terrains, including tunnel below Chamba town, work on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route and other strategic highways", Gadkari told reporters.
In 2020, the government launched the work for the strategic 14.15 kilometres-long Zojila tunnel to provide all-year connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh. Remodelling of the project, which has been pending for quite sometime, is projected to result in savings worth about Rs 5,000 crore.
During the pandemic, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) completed a substantial part of the work of road connectivity from Dharchula to Lipulekh, popularly known as Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route. The strategically-crucial stretch connects the Lipulekh pass at a height of 17,000-feet along the border with China in Uttarakhand with Dharchula.
"Seven tunnel roads are under construction in the Jammu and Kashmir region alone, including construction of the 8,450 metres-long twin-tube tunnel between Qazigund and Banihal that will be completed by the coming March. The work on 2,968 metres-long 6-single tunnels road between Ramban and Banihal is due for completion in December 2021," Gadkari said.
"We have completed about 85 per cent work on the Kailash Mansarovar route and the remaining work is likely to be completed by April 2021," the Road Transport, Highways and MSMEs Minister said.
According to him, through different programmes, a target for development of 60,000 kilometres of national highway in the next five years has been set. The work is on full swing, including the Rs 1 lakh crore-Delhi-Mumbai express corridor, which the government is confident of completing in the next two years.
With India's pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 30-35 per cent by 2030 and efforts to cut down on Rs 8 lakh crore-worth crude oil imports, the focus is also on green fuel and electricity as well as Electric Vehicles (EVs).
To fast-track highways construction technical and financial qualification for eligibility has been relaxed to encourage wider participation of builders in HAM (Hybrid Annuity Model), EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) models.
Working capital requirements were streamlined by rescheduling and fast-tracking payment cycles, thereby releasing more than Rs 8,000 crore-worth of payments during the lockdown period. Among other initiatives, performance security requirement has been done away with to ease cash flow in the sector and funds worth Rs 4,000 crore have been released while existing PPP contractors either in HAM or BOT or TOT have been compensated for losses.