Why maintenance of roads is as important a target as developing new roads..

Came across this yet another article on NDA vs UPA comparison. The earlier ones were between UPA I and II vs NDA I and the recent ones are between NDA-II (in first year) vs UPA. The article is on road development target in the two regimes:

Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s claim of highway construction falling to 2 km per day during the last months of UPA and the NDA government pushing this to 14 km may have become popular in the BJP camp but road transport ministry data show that highway-building never went below 11 km per day during UPA-2.

Rather, construction by NHAI and other agencies on the ministry’s behalf was the highest at 16 km per day during 2012-13 and the second maximum rate of building road was during 2009-10 at 14 km.

Now, with the government laying stress on building roads with increased budgetary allocation of Rs 42,000 crore, Gadkari has claimed that construction of roads during the Narendra Modi government will surpass the total length of highways built in previous years.

It was no different when it came to UPA-2, which claimed that it built maximum highway stretches during its rule. In October 2013, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said NDA had built 2,650 km of roads during five years of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government while the UPA built 9,570 km during the same period.

He added that highway construction was less during Vajpayee regime since less stretches were taken up for construction. There was less fund availability and there were very few contractors to undertake works. “By the time UPA-1 came, NH length increased, institutional mechanism was in place to execute projects. Then came private investors and hence highway development gained momentum. So, there should be no comparison,” the retired official said.

Moreover, while the performance of the ministry was earlier taken only in terms of NHAI’s performance, from 2007-08 onwards, new flagship schemes such as SARDP-NE and LWE were also included in the ministry’s performance. Later, it also started awarding works under NHDP and other larger projects following corridor approach under NH (original) and these also find place in performance of ministry.

Even some of the serving officials in the road ministry and NHAI said the pace of construction will increase in the next one decade irrespective of which party or alliance come to power as the NH network will expand further. “Last year we awarded about 8,000 km and this year we will award another 10,000 km. If we repeat this for the third consecutive year, we will easily cross 20-25 km per day during 2017-18 and 2018-19,” said a ministry official.

SO pretty much a continuous effort where policies taken in someone’e tenure runs into hectic implementation in someone else’s tenure. The overall idea is to develop the country and not really get into fight over who achieved more.

Having said this, one would say new road contruction is a bizarre target. Infact we have been only doing this all along. What we have not done is road maintenance. It is so easy to build a road of really poor quality and then see it wither away in just one shower (sometimes shower is also not needed, just a couple of rides are all that is needed). And then you again build the same road as new and show it as a new target.

Most of the times, good public policy is maintaining the status quo (provided it is a good state of course). Things like maintaining good systems (with roads being one of them) is all that is needed. But it does not bring the required limelight to those framing such policies.

Infact, our roads are just a mess. It is not just plain construction but the entire design machinery is highly outdated. There are never enough signboards and signals to indicate dangers/blindspots etc. It is just such a random process all through. And then we have tolled most of our roads charging people for both development and maintenance. But the second part is often ignored. Some of the tolled roads do not deserve to charge at all.

The fight should be on whether roads architecture overall improved and made it safer for passengers. Not things like more roads per day which just hide the ground reality..

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