As the ‘friendly approachable’ face of BJP, Nitin Gadkari has maintained this reputation even after being appointed Minister of Road Transport and Highways in the Modi Cabinet. Gadkari, a crucial strategist who has allies on both sides of the political aisle, is seen as a problem-solver and doer in his ministry and even in politics
By Geeta Singh
- Under Nitin Gadkari, a few records, like highway construction, have reached an all-time high. In 2020-21 alone, MoRTH built over 13,000 km of highways, which is a record in itself
- Gadkari has also implemented an electronic toll collection (ETC) project on national highways, which has reduced the waiting time at toll plazas and improved the overall traffic flow
- MoRTH has set a new record for the construction of the world’s longest extradosed bridge, the Chenab Bridge in J&K. The bridge is 1.315 km long and is being built at a height of 359 metres above the Chenab river
- Currently, India is building roads at a record rate and the country’s national highway network will rise by 37% in the next two years
RECENTLY Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Jairam Gadkari said he will ensure that the 670-km Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Greenfield Expressway gets completed before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Pointing out that the completion of the Rs 40,000-crore Expressway is scheduled for December 2024, Gadkari said: “May mein chunav hein. Chunav ke baad… humein kya fayda hai. Humein to usska udghatan karna hai. Saaf baat karne mein mujhe koi sankoch nahin hota” “I will try that the NHAI completes this project before the enforcement of the model code of conduct for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and we get it inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February-March,” he said to mediapersons at Katra.
Gadkari has a long association with roads. He has been in his position for nine years since his appointment as Union Minister, before that he paved ways to Mumbai’s expressways. This makes him the longest-serving Road Transport and Highways Minister since independence. During that time, he left an imprint on India that will not be forgotten for a long time. It’s easy to forget how bad India’s roads were nine years ago and in the years before Gadkari was appointed.
PASSION FOR ROADS
Currently, India is building roads at a record rate and the country’s national highway network will rise by 37% in the next two years. Gadkari has set the target of developing 2 lakh km of a national highway network by 2025. It was 96,000 km when he took charge as minister in 2014, nine years back. Right now, it is 1.46 lakh km. Road building has advanced 37% more quickly under the Modi government than it did under Manmohan Singh. According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the average length of roads constructed per day increased by 37% from 11.67 km in 2013-14 to 28.6 km/day in 2021-22.
In 2014, the Indian government was constructing about two km of road every day. This was far from adequate for a country of that size with such a sluggish infrastructure. Under Gadkari’s leadership, that figure had more than quadrupled in a year. Since then, it has been steadily rising.
Even during the COVID-19 epidemic, which delayed output around the world, the ministry was still in charge of adding 28 kilometres of road to India’s network per day in the fiscal year 2019-20. In 2022-23, a target of 68 kilometres per day is expected.
The goals set by Gadkari for developing them before time are transparent enough to show that one ministry under the Modi government is working at a high rate of speed and breaking records.
To improve road connectivity throughout the country, the ministry has undertaken many initiatives, including the Bharatmala Pariyojana and the Pradhan Mantri Gramme Sadak Yojana. Aside from national highways, the government has prioritised rural road connectivity aimed at connecting all villages with all-weather roads. This has enhanced rural access to education, healthcare, and other services. The Bharatmala Pariyojana is an ambitious endeavour to build 34,800 kilometres of roads across the country.
RECORD BREAKING ACHIEVEMENTS
Nitin Gadkari has launched a number of projects to boost India’s connectivity and infrastructure. Under him, a few of the records set by him like the construction of highways have reached an all-time high. He has set a target of constructing highways at a rate of 40 km per day. And his ministry has been successful in achieving this target in recent years.
In the year 2020-21 alone, MoRTH built over 13,000 km of highways, which is a record in itself. His ministry is also known for its speedy implementation of projects. Gadkari has set a target of completing highway construction within three years, and he has been successful in achieving this goal in many cases.
MoRTH has set a new record for the construction of the world’s longest extradosed bridge, the Chenab Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir. The bridge is 1.315 km long and is being built at a height of 359 metres above the Chenab river.
According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the average length of roads constructed per day increased by 37% from 11.67 km in 2013-14 to 28.6 km/day in 2021-22
Gadkari has also implemented an electronic toll collection (ETC) project on national highways, which has reduced the waiting time at toll plazas and improved the overall traffic flow.
His role in completing large-scale infrastructure projects is essential to the government’s electoral success, from building a network of 25,000 km of new national highways as announced in the Budget to finishing high-profile, expensive projects like the Delhi-Mumbai Motorway and the Delhi-Dehradun Economic Corridor.
While exuding confidence that the four-laning work on the Mumbai-Goa Highway will be completed by December 2023 Gadkari has divided it into 10 packages with an estimated expenditure of Rs 15,566 crore. Though half of the highway is near to completion, the minister was not satisfied with the packages in Ratnagiri district so he replaced the constructors. Without hiding his displeasure, Gadkari said: “I am not happy with the manner in which the Mumbai-Goa Highway project has progressed. It has confronted a lot of challenges leading to slow work. But we accept our responsibility and coordinate with various agencies to override the hurdles and ensure project completion.” “Despite challenges and delays the Mumbai-Goa Highway will be completed in December 2023,” he assured.
The ministry is also focusing on improving the connectivity to the rural areas through the construction of roads and highways. The Morbe-Karanjade road project, around Rs 13,000 crore, was also announced by the Union Minister and will go through Navi Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port. The route will cut the distance between Mumbai and Delhi’s travel time in half, to 12 hours.
He is also focusing on the development of waterways, and it has set a target of developing 111 waterways across the country. So far, 16 waterways have been declared as National Waterways.
CHALLENGING WORK IN HIMALAYA
On high Himalayan altitudes, Gadkari’s ministry has displayed some of the world’s greatest engineering feats. MoRTH has constructed the world’s highest highway single-tube tunnel above 10,040 feet (3,048 m), the Atal Tunnel, in the Himalayas. The tunnel is 9.02 km long and connects Manali to Leh. With the existing Atal Tunnel and after the completion of under-construction Shinku La Tunnel, which is targeted to be completed by 2025, the new Leh-Manali Highway via Nimmu–Padum–Darcha road will become all-weather road.
Gadkari is leveraging technology to improve the efficiency of road construction. His ministry has adopted several innovative technologies such as the use of precast concrete for bridge construction, use of waste plastic in road construction, and use of drones for road survey and monitoring
Named after former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Atal tunnel is built under the Rohtang Pass in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. It provides all-weather connectivity to the remote areas of Lahaul and Spiti Valley and Ladakh region, which was previously cut off for six months every year due to heavy snowfall.
The hardest difficulty was to keep the excavation going through winter’s deep snowfall. Tunnelling required excavation from both ends. The north entrance, however, was inaccessible in the winter since Rohtang Pass closes, and excavation work was only done from the south portal. Three-fourths of the tunnel’s length was excavated from the south end, and only roughly one-fourth from the north end. Avalanche sites exceeded 46 on the approaches to the tunnel. Atal tunnel is built using the latest tunnelling technology and is designed to withstand the extreme climatic conditions of the region. It has a two-lane road, one on each side, and is equipped with modern safety features such as an automatic fire detection and suppression system, CCTV cameras, and a ventilation system. It has reduced the travel time between Manali and Leh by around 4-5 hours, making it easier for people to travel to the region. The tunnel has also provided a significant boost to tourism in the area and has opened up new opportunities for trade and commerce.
The construction of the Atal Tunnel was a significant engineering feat, and it is regarded as a marvel of modern engineering. The tunnel has been hailed as a symbol of India’s infrastructure development and has won several awards for its design and construction.
The Zojila Tunnel is a proposed tunnel that will connect the Srinagar-Leh National Highway with the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh. It will be India’s longest road tunnel, and is expected to be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel, boasting a length of 14.15 km located at an altitude of 11,578 ft above sea level and will provide all-weather connectivity to the region. The tunnel’s construction will also be a great engineering marvel, as it will need excavating through difficult terrain and geological conditions.
It is a 7.57 m high horseshoe-shaped single-tube, 2-lane tunnel, which will pass under the Zojila Pass in the Himalayas between Ganderbal in Kashmir and Drass town in Kargil district of Ladakh. The project includes a Smart Tunnel (SCADA) system, which has been constructed using the New Austrian Tunneling Method. It is equipped with facilities like CCTV, radio control, uninterrupted power supply, and ventilation. The use of modern technology in this project has saved the Government of India more than 5000 crore rupees. So far 28% work of Zojila Tunnel has been completed.
The project was first conceived in the 1990s but faced numerous challenges, including difficult terrain, harsh weather conditions, and security concerns. However, in January 2018, the Modi government approved the construction of the tunnel, which is estimated to cost around Rs 6,809 crore.
On the other hand, when Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Greenfield Expressway completed, it will reduce the current Delhi-Katra distance from 727 km (452 mi) to 588 km (365 mi) and the time travel will be reduced from 14 hours to 6 hours, and Delhi-Amritsar distance to 405 km (252 mi) and from the time travel will be reduced from 8 hours to only 4 hours. “I do not think anyone from Delhi will come to Vaishno Devi by air once the road is through,’’ he added. He also announced the establishment of a world class state-of-the-art Intermodal Station (IMS) in Katra for Vaishno Devi pilgrims.
Gadkari has announced his ministry’s approval for the construction of a road up to Amarnath shrine at a cost of Rs 5,300 crore. In addition, he approved the widening of the existing 110-km road from Khanabal to Chandanwari and then Chandanwari to Baltal via Panchtarni. He said there would be a 10-km tunnel between Seshnag and Panchtarani and from Panchtarni to Amarnath shrine, a 5-km concrete footpath will be constructed with barricades on both sides.
Pointing out that developmental works worth Rs 1,30,000 crore are being taken up by MoRTH in J&K, and since 2014, around 500 km of road network have been completed in the region, Gadkari said that 41 significant tunnels are being constructed in J&K and Ladakh at a cost of Rs 45,000 crore. Eighteen ropeways worth Rs 5,000 crore will also be constructed in Jammu & Kashmir.
ROAD ACCIDENTS STILL A CONCERN
Road accidents continue to be a serious issue in India, with hundreds of people dying each year. According to MoRTH’s most recent data, there were 4,37,396 road accidents in India in 2019. These accidents resulted in 1,547,732 deaths and 4,39,262 injuries. The majority of the accidents happened in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Rajasthan. Along with other reasons, inadequate road infrastructure also contributes to road accidents. Two-wheelers are the most common cause of accidents, followed by vehicles, lorries, and buses. On Indian roadways, pedestrians and cyclists are also at risk, accounting for a considerable proportion of fatalities.
The Zojila Tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel, and is expected to be Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel, which will pass under the Zojila Pass in the Himalayas between Ganderbal in Kashmir and Drass town in Kargil district of Ladakh. The project includes a Smart Tunnel (SCADA) system, which has been constructed using the New Austrian Tunneling Method
Expressing concern over road accidents, the minister said: “Out of five lakh accidents annually, 1.5 lakhs are fatal. In a large number of cases, the age of the victims is between 18 to 34 years – which is painful. It is our endeavour to minimise road and highway accidents.” But he is planning to implement new policy initiatives like the vehicle scrappage policy and a raft of laws to make Indian vehicles safer.
So Gadkari is leveraging technology to improve the efficiency of road construction. His ministry has adopted several innovative technologies such as the use of precast concrete for bridge construction, use of waste plastic in road construction, and use of drones for road survey and monitoring.
INITIATIVE TOWARDS ENVIRONMENT
Nitin Gadkari has been a strong advocate of environmentally sustainable development in the road transport and highway sector. The use of alternative fuels, such as biofuels and electric vehicles, are encouraged. In addition, steps have been taken to reduce the transport sector’s carbon footprint. The construction of highways and expressways with modern safety features has also helped to reduce the environmental impact of the transport sector.
The ministry has recently introduced a vehicle scrappage policy. This aims to take old and polluting vehicles off the road and encourage the use of more fuel-efficient and environment-friendly vehicles. While Gadkari has promoted eco-friendly and sustainable transportation, there is still scope for improvement in his approach to environmental and climate issues. As India faces a growing threat from climate change, it is crucial that the government takes proactive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable development.
COMPARISON TO THE US ROADS
Nitin Gadkari’s comparison of Indian roads to the United States was likely aimed at emphasising the government’s efforts to improve the country’s road infrastructure and position it as a major player on the global stage. While the comparison may be ambitious, it serves as a rallying call for the government and private sector to work together to improve the country’s road network.
The main obstacle in achieving the goal of matching the road infrastructure of the United States is the scale and complexity of India’s road network. India’s road network is the second-largest in the world, with over 6 million km of roads, of which only a small fraction are highways. The country faces significant challenges in upgrading its existing road network and building new highways that connect the major economic hubs, ports, and border areas.
Named after former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Atal tunnel is built under the Rohtang Pass in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. It provides all-weather connectivity to the remote areas of Lahaul and Spiti Valley and Ladakh region, which was previously cut off for six months every year due to heavy snowfall
One of the biggest challenges faced by the Indian road sector is the lack of adequate funding and investment. While the government has allocated significant funds for road development programs like the Bharatmala Pariyojana, the actual funding requirements are much higher. The private sector has been hesitant to invest in the road sector due to several reasons, including the lengthy and complex approval processes, high land acquisition costs, and the limited availability of financing options.
The country has made significant investments in building new roads and upgrading the existing ones, which has resulted in improved connectivity and facilitated economic growth and development. His stint as Maharashtra PWD Minister had established his credentials. Having completed Mumbai-Pune expressway in record time, building 56 flyovers in crowded Mumbai besides of course conceiving Bandra-Worli sea-link wasn’t a mean feat. He had claimed then that he had completed works worth Rs. 8,000 crore with a meagre equity of Rs 5 crore. He brought in the same expertise and same business, administrative and governance model to Delhi as well.
VITAL ROLE IN BOOSTING ECONOMY
NITIN GADKARI has a long and illustrious career as a politician, and he is well known for his contributions to the growth of the road transport industry and infrastructure. With more than 6.6 million kilometres of roads, including national highways, state highways, and rural roads, India has one of the greatest road networks in the world. And since the present government took office in 2014, road connectivity has seen a noticeable improvement. The following are some noteworthy advancements in road connectivity:
BHARATMALA PARIYOJANA: Bharatmala Pariyojana is a new umbrella program for the highways sector that focuses on optimising efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps through effective interventions like development of Economic Corridors, Inter Corridors and Feeder Routes, National Corridor Efficiency Improvement, Border and International connectivity roads, Coastal and Port connectivity roads and Green-field expressways. Launched in 2017, this mega infrastructure project aimed at improving road connectivity across the country. Under this project, the government plans to build over 83,000 km of highways.
SETU BHARATAM: The Setu Bharatam project is another flagship initiative of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways aimed at making all national highways free of railway level crossings by 2019. Under this project, the government plans to construct over 200 railway overbridges and underpasses at a cost of Rs 102 billion. The project aims to improve road safety and reduce travel time by eliminating the need for railway level crossings.
PRADHAN MANTRI GRAM SADAK YOJANA (PMGSY): This was launched in 2000, was revamped in 2014 with the aim of providing all-weather road connectivity to all eligible unconnected habitations in rural areas. Since then, over 1,22,000 km of rural roads have been constructed under this scheme. An average 130 km of roads are being constructed every day under PMGSY, the highest in the last 7 years.
NATIONAL HIGHWAY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT (NHDP): The National Highway Development Project is a comprehensive road development program aimed at improving the quality and capacity of the National Highway network in the country. The project was launched in 1998 and is being implemented in seven phases. Under this project, the government has constructed several high-quality highways and expressways that have significantly improved the country’s road infrastructure. Nitin Gadkari has played a crucial role in the timely completion of various phases of the NHDP and has completed several highway projects after 2014, including the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and the Western Peripheral Expressway around Delhi.
NATIONAL HIGHWAYS INTERCONNECTIVITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT (NHIIP): The NHIIP is a World Bank-funded project aimed at improving the efficiency and safety of the national highway network. Under this project, the government has taken steps to improve the road infrastructure, including constructing new highways, widening and upgrading existing highways, and improving road safety measures.
REFORMS AND INNOVATIONS: Nitin Gadkari has been instrumental in bringing about several reforms and innovations in the road transport sector. Several smart cities in the country have launched initiatives to improve their road infrastructure, including the implementation of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and the construction of pedestrian-friendly roads. He has introduced several measures to improve road safety, including the implementation of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, and has promoted the use of alternative fuels such as ethanol, methanol, and electric vehicles.
ELECTRONIC TOLL COLLECTION (ETC) SYSTEM: Nitin Gadkari has been a strong advocate of the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system in India. The ETC system is an automated system that enables toll collection without the need for stopping vehicles at toll plazas. The system has been successfully implemented on several national highways in the country and has reduced traffic congestion and travel time for commuters.