New Delhi: The BJP’s surge in the Northeast since the Modi government assumed power in 2014 could well be on the back of massive highway development in the region.
From a mere 0.6 km of national highways built per day during the UPA era (2009-14), road construction more than doubled, touching an all-time high of 1.5 km per day between 2014 and March 2019, the latest road transport and highways ministry data shows.
Together, different central government agencies, including the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which falls under the defence ministry, have built 2,731 km of national highways across the eight northeastern states between 2014 and 2019.
As against this, the UPA government built 1,079.25 km of roads between 2009 and 2014.
“It’s one of the most visible outcomes of the infrastructure push that the Northeast got in the last five years,” said a senior official in the road transport and highways ministry, who did not want to be named.
The official cited several projects including the Saraighat bridge over the Brahmaputra, which was inaugurated in 2017 after massive delays.
Maximum stretch of highway constructed in Assam
Of the 2,731 km of highway constructed between 2014 and 2019, Assam got the maximum stretch of 1,011 km.
The BJP came to power for the first time in Assam in 2016 after defeating the Congress, which was in power for 15 years.
Closely following Assam is Arunachal Pradesh, where 851 km was constructed. Manipur is a distant third with 373 km (see graphic).
New body under NDA behind road infrastructure push
A second ministry official said a new body created by the Modi government was behind the renewed infrastructure push.
“One of the first things the NDA government did after coming to power in 2014 was to set up National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), which was given the mandate to construct highways in the Northeast and hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir,” the official said.
Earlier, it was mainly the NHAI and BRO that were entrusted with road construction in the Northeast.
“NHIDCL being a separate wing of the road ministry to focus on Northeast has helped expedite project completion,” the official added. “It has helped in resolving issues that are holding up projects on a day-to-day basis between different stakeholders.”
The road ministry has also sanctioned over 12,000-km stretch of highways projects entailing a cost of Rs 1,90,000 crore.
Highway construction lagged during UPA years
Highway development in the Northeast had been the focus of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government as well.
In 2006, the then UPA government had initiated the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in North-East (SARDP-NE) with an eye to improve road connectivity in the region. It envisaged two and four-laning of nearly 7,429 km of national highways and two laning and improvement of another 2,712 km of state roads.
But work did not pick up pace and projects were beset by delays. Ministry officials blamed the difficult terrain, delay in land acquisition and very limited work season for the slow pace at which highways were constructed in the region.
The East-West corridor project connecting Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam is an example. The 637-km Assam stretch of the corridor is not yet complete. The first deadline for the stretch was December 2015, which has been extended a number of times since then.
A decade after work started, the project is yet to see the light of the day. The new deadline has now been fixed at June 2020.