|Taking a ‘quality’ leap
|Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways R P N Singh is working on a clear agenda — to
ensure time-bound quality construction of roads and highways across the country. In an interview with
Renu Mittal, he talks about his plans to take this agenda forward.
Q: You are a first time Mantri. How are you
enjoying the work?
A: To be very honest, it has been a
whirlwind entry into this ministry,
because the moment we took over,
the Parliament began and we were
inundated with unstarred and starred
questions. Answering those unstarred and starred
questions actually helps you in understanding
your ministry in a very deep way.
But I have been fortunate in the way that I
have a very experienced Cabinet Minister with
whom I have the opportunity to work and who has
worked in many capacities in the government. He
works at a very hectic pace. So I have been an
observer, watched him and learnt. What I would
have learnt in one year, I have managed to learn in
three or four months. In these two months, what I
have learnt would I would have taken on my own
a year or more to learn,
Actually, the Prime Minister has put this on
priority basis and we are trying to live up to his
expectations of providing better roads and highways
for this country. In fact, (it is not a comparison,
nor is it meant to put down what the previous
government has done), what the NDA government
made in five years, our aim is to make (the same
amount of) roads during this year alone. So you
can imagine the quantum jump our ministry is
going to take.
The Prime Minister has spoken of a 100-day
agenda for most Ministries. Now, you are in the
crucial Infrastructure Ministry. What exactly
are the contours of this 100-day agenda that
you are now moving towards?
We have come up with the policy that we are
going to make 20 kms (of roads) per day. And in
those hundred days, we are going to make 12,000
kms within this year. We have made a work plan
For such a big endeavour you need a huge
amount of money and for this we are doing road
shows. My Cabinet colleague has been to Singapore
and is in Zurich now. He is going to
other parts of the world to raise funds for
this endeavour, and we are very hopeful
that this will go through and that 20 km
per day does not remain a dream but
turns into reality.
Is it a practical proposition?
You need to do things and it is a
possibility. If it were not a
possibility, then we would
have not set those kinds of
targets. It is a target which
you cannot begin doing
from, let’s say, in the next
hundred days, but it’s a
target which we think is
achievable in the next
The recent Metro accident has shown us that
there is a need for independent verification of
potential conflict of interest with regard to
design. If design and construction are handled
by the same agencies, it can lead to a lot of
problems. Is your Ministry now looking at this
aspect of having independent verification?
For every project, we have supervisory consultants
who are different from the concessionaires or the
contractors. The supervisory consultants look into
each project and we just had a meeting of all the
concessionaires in a few states to see the progress.
There is a government person from our department,
who is an engineer, then there is the contractor
or concessionaire, and there is a third party
which is an independent supervisory consultant.
So, we actually have two other people besides the
contractor as well as the concessionaire, who look
into the building of the road.
|The system has been in place for some time, but
despite that we find roads caving in.
| We have passed very strict instructions (about the
kind of work that is to be done). In fact, we are
going to be looking and inspecting the roads ourselves.
I went to South India and had a look at the
roads there also. Since Parliament is not in session
now, we are going to do a lot of travelling
within the country to see where these projects are
being (carried out).
||We have come
up with the
policy that we
are going to
make 20 kms (of
roads) per day.
And in those
are going to
kms within this
made a work
plan for that.
What about the National Highways and the
State Highways? We find that state governments,
which are supposed to be responsible for
State Highways, palm off these highways as
National Highways, and (misuse) the funds that
No. There are certain sections of the National
Highways we look after directly. There are some
parts of the roads for whose upkeep we give the
money to the PWD. By PWD (I mean) the State
PWD. So the roads which are taken care of by us,
I don’t think there is any problem there.
Yes, there might be some complaints about the
State PWD. You have to remember that the basic
problem comes in because of the repair of the
roads. Not the National Highways but the other
roads where there is actually a shortage of funds.
For example, for repair of roads, there is a demand
of over Rs 2,000 crores. But the Planning Commission
or the Finance Ministry has only given us
Rs 1,000 crores. So we have to (allocate funds) per
se to roads which have immediate need and which
have to be prioritised first.
So there is a shortage of funds, as far as repairs
go, and I think we try to maintain roads which are
in a workable condition and our thrust is on that.
You are from Uttar Pradesh. Are you going to
be focusing now on UP as a high-priority area?
We find highways are sadly lacking in the state.
I came up with a special proposal for hundred days
in Uttar Pradesh, where we targeted three or four
roads which are very essential to different parts of
the state. And we are happy that we are managing to follow the principles of the hundred-day proposal.
Basically, my Ministry is implementing 29
projects in Uttar Pradesh, of which we are very
hopeful (they are doing cost overruns and there
have been major problems in land acquisition.
Still, regardless of that, by the next year), we are
going to complete 20 projects, which itself would
be a major impetus to road development in Uttar
Pradesh. We are privatising backward regions in
UP to develop roads and see how roads can reach
these backward regions. So, yes, we are going to
be putting focus on Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, I passed an order saying all Project
Directors of all road development have to give me
their work sheets on what progress they have made
on the first day of the month. I am personally
monitoring these things. And I hope and am sure
that it is going to happen fast.
I’m sure people from Uttar Pradesh would be very
happy, they have a minister from their state who is
personally monitoring what’s been happening in
the state. It has been long-pending.
The focus has been there, but there have been a lot
of problems and factors. But we are happy that at
least 20 projects will be completed in the next
|For every project, we have
What about corporates? Are you planning to
bring private sector into it? Because, after all,
the government has limited funds.
We are going in for all these road shows. You will
be surprised to know that all the roads that have
been built on the BOT/MOT toll programme, only
9 per cent of the money for roads and highways is
coming in from the private sector.
|We will definitely try to increase that spending,
and we are trying to get in money from the
private sector also on a larger scale, according to
the PPP model, so that more and more companies
come in and we have a larger say in things. So we
want to bring in the PPP model and want larger
players — we need all kinds of players to come in
and build roads. In fact, we have come up with a
lot of BOT projects that are coming through.
|Any particular incentives you are offering to
attract them to come and be a part of your
A BOT Toll policy makes it favourable and profitable
to them also to come under BOT Toll projects.
If it were not profitable to them, why would
they invest? They are coming for the business
aspect of it and we want to give good quality
roads at reasonable rates to the people of India.
Are the road shows working?
They have just started, and I think we are already
getting some good responses. We need Rs one
lakh crore to make those 12,000 kms this year. So
that is not a small amount — it is $20 billion. We
hope to be able raise that kind of financing for the
roads in this country.
|There is an international system of accreditation
of inspection bodies. Not only on site but
in areas and processes as well. The Quality
Council of India is the national agency responsible
for the accreditation system. It has
recently announced simplified process of
inspection of infrastructure projects. Are you
looking into it?
| I think that the department is very responsive to
demands and we have regular (inspection) from
the NHAI (National Highways Authority of India)
to see the quality of work. In fact, they have Project
Directors based in all these projects, who
interact with the contractors and see that they follow
the specifications. So, as far as quality control
is concerned, we are getting that done.
||They have just
started, and I
think we are
need Rs one
lakh crore to
12,000 kms this
year. So that is
not a small
amount — it
is $20 billion.
That is a huge area of concern. Maybe there is
not enough penalisation of those who are not
adhering to quality.
No. In fact we have terminated a lot of contracts
also. I know it is not a very good thing to do but
we have taken very strict action. We have not
only terminated contracts, but we have also blacklisted
them so that they cannot apply again. We
have issued notices to some contractors.
So, that is an ongoing process. We have actually
terminated many projects and that has led to
the delay in the (completion) of the projects. So
we have taken action in cases where we have
found (discrepancies) and will continue to do so.
Internationally, we find there is satellite
monitoring on highways. Are you also looking
I do not know about satellite monitoring. You
have taken me (by surprise). I don’t think we will
be looking at it that way, but if there is a way of
doing it, why not? We should do it.
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