Almost everyone agrees that infrastructure is perhaps India's biggest weak link. Be it power, ports or roads. But despite the broad consensus, we can't really get out act together. As per a leading business daily, of the 230 projects completed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) so far, about 172 were delayed. Yes, 75% of all NHAI projects couldn't be finished on time. It is true that land acquisition is major hurdle. So are shifting of utilities, clearances from environment, forest and railway authorities. It is also true that as Indians we aren't exactly sticklers for getting things done in time. But surely a 75% delay rate is sub-par by any standard. Especially when the delays shoot up the project's cost. In fact, 123 road projects under implementation are also delayed.
Against a target for developing about 3,165 km length of national highways under the NHDP (National Highways Development Programme) in FY10, the achievement till November 2009 has been only about 1,490 km. The pace of awarding new road projects also has been poor. Only 13% of the targeted road length for FY10 have been awarded in the first 8 months.
Ironically, the government has approved road projects to the tune of Rs 73 bn in Naxal affected areas. It involves more than 1,200 km of national highways and about 4,400 km of state roads. No one can quarrel with their need. But the government plans to implement them over the next three years. Given the NHAI's track record, that is a tad ambitious in our view. We wonder if such a track record would be tolerated by the management of any private business. But when it comes to governance, everyone seems to be far more accommodating. It is high time the Indian governing class learnt about building good quality infrastructure in time and within budget.