India’s 54,82,000 km (3,406,000 mi) road network is the world’s second largest, with only 2% (110,000 km) of national highways (NHs) handling 40% of all traffic.  Bharatmala phase-I will increase NH connectivity to 80 percent, or 550 districts, out of a total of 718 districts, up from 42 percent, or 300 districts, now connected (dec 2017). Shortest Route Mapping for 12,000 routes carrying 90% of India’s freight, commodity-wise freight flow study across 600 districts, automated traffic surveys across 1,500+ sites across the country, and satellite mapping of corridors to identify Bharatmala upgradation requirements.
The Bharatmala Pariyojana (lit. ‘India garland project’) is a Government of India-sponsored and-funded Road and Highways project. The overall budget for the 83,677 km (51,994 mi) of pledged new roadways is anticipated to be 5.35 lakh crore (US$70 billion), making it the single largest government road construction scheme (as of December 2017). The project will build highways from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana to the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram, and then cover the entire string of Himalayan territories – Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand – and then portions of the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar borders alongside Terai, and then move to West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh.
Connectivity to far-flung border and rural communities, especially tribal and backward areas, would receive special attention. By interconnecting 24 logistics parks, 66 inter-corridors (IC) totaling 8,000 km (5,000 mi), 116 feeder routes (FR) totaling 7,500 km (4,700 mi), and 7 north east Multi-Modal waterway ports, the Bharatmala Project will connect 550 District Headquarters (from current 300) through a minimum 4-lane highway, increasing the number of corridors to 50 (from current 6) and moving 80 percent freight traffic (currently 40 percent) to National Highways. The enormous umbrella initiative would encompass all existing highway projects, including the flagship National Highways Development Project (NHDP), which was initiated in 1998 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Other important Government of India projects, such as Sagarmala, Dedicated Freight Corridors, Industrial Corridors, UDAN-RCS, BharatNet, Digital India, Parvatmala, and Make in India, are both enablers and beneficiaries.
Bharatmala’s roadway infrastructure will be greatly improved:
1. Increase the number of NC corridors from six to fifty (6 NC and 44 EC)
2. Increase the freight rate on national highways from 40% to 80%.
3. Increase the number of districts from 300 to 550, with at least four-lane highways connecting them.
According to a parliamentary committee, the first phase of the mammoth highway project – Bharatmala pariyojna (BMP) – is projected to be near 100 percent over budget. The phase can now be completed by FY27, rather than the original goal of FY22, because just a fifth of the construction target has been met thus far. According to the parliamenary committee on highways’ report delivered to the Rajya Sabha on March 14, the cost of BMP Phase-I might be Rs 10.63 trillion, up from the previous estimate of Rs 5.35 trillion.
In October 2017, the government approved the first phase of the highway construction programme, which will cover 34,800 km (including 10,000 km of residual lengths under the National Highways Development Project) and cost Rs 5.35 trillion. It was projected that the whole length of the route be completed by 2021-22. The project’s completion date has been pushed back to 2026-2027 because only 20,632 kilometres (59.28 percent) have been granted and only 7,375 kilometres (21.19 percent) have been built as of December 2021.
The committee, led by TG Venkatesh, also stated that meeting the revised objective would be a “huge task for the ministry.” “Cost escalations have stemmed from the exponential growth in land acquisition costs combined with the rapid rise in commodity prices,” said Icra’s Rajeshwar Burla. The Bharatmala programme aims to close critical infrastructure gaps by implementing effective interventions such as economic corridor development, inter-corridor and feeder route development, national corridor efficiency improvement, border roads and international connectivity roads, coastal and port connectivity roads, and greenfield expressways. This programme also includes multi-modal integration.
Backward and tribal communities, sites of economic activity, places of religious and tourist attraction, border areas, coastal areas, and trading routes with neighbouring countries have all received special attention. While there has been significant progress on highway contracts and construction in recent years, including a record 37 km per day in the past fiscal year, analysts say the covid-19 epidemic, land acquisition issues, and the sheer scale of the programme have pushed the project completion deadline.
Bharatmala Phase-II DPRs have begun
The Road Transport and Highway Ministry has unveiled Bharatmala-II, the successor to its 2017 cousin. The government of India has announced the commencement of the second phase of its Bharatmala scheme. Under the auspices of this initiative, 5,000 km of projects will be built, with Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) being generated prior to project approval to speed up the implementation process. The Bharatmala initiative’s first phase, which has yet to be finished, seeks to build 34,800 km of roadways, including National Highways and other projects. “We will go for approvals for the second phase before Phase – I is completed,” a source familiar with the project told the media. We’ve learned from the first phase’s execution, when we encountered delays due to land acquisition and approvals that took a long time to arrive.” Union Minister Nitin Gadkari announced in December 2019 that Phase-I of the project, with a total cost of US$ 36 billion, will be finished by 2021-22. 2,000 kilometres of Border and International Connectivity Roads, 10,699 kilometres of road projects, 2,000 kilometres of Coastal and Port Connectivity Roads, and 6,000 kilometres of Inter-corridor and feeder roads are among the projects.
India’s infrastructure sector has a lot of potential, with the country having the world’s second-largest roadway network. While the industry is experiencing delays due to difficulties in the land acquisition process, there are other issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure that projects are implemented smoothly. Weather-related, traffic-related, or geography-related concerns frequently result in increased expenditures as a result of irregularities in the preparation of DPR reports. There is also more opportunity to address the disparity in state funding for infrastructure projects in order to pique private sector interest. In addition, procedures for expediting the required series of approvals and resolving any conflicts between the parties involved will need to be established. Ambitious projects to upgrade the nation’s roads infrastructure should hope to see greater fruition with the smoothing of imperfections that limit the sector’s growth.