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NHAI told to attract private investment, but 4 key member posts lying vacant

Officials said the NHAI is trying to bid out more projects under PPP models such as BOT

NHAI, PPP, BOT, Build Operate and Transfer, Road construction, Niti Aayog, 'Build, Operate, Transfer

At a time when the Centre has asked the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to attract more private investments in road building and bid out additional projects, posts of four key members at the agency have been lying vacant. And, the post of member in-charge of public-private partnership (PPP) has been lying vacant for over a year.

Officials said the NHAI is trying to bid out more projects under PPP models such as 'Build, Operate and Transfer' (BOT). It has started identifying financially viable projects for which bids can be called on priority. It has also prepared bunches of completed highway projects with total length of 5,000 km that will be bid out to private players for 20-30 years.

The NHAI has been spending nearly Rs 70,000 crore annually on road construction. There has been hardly any private investment in the highway construction sector in the past couple of years. Sources at NHAI said only seven-to-eight projects were awarded in 2018-19 on BOT basis and a large chunk of the works are being executed through a 100% government-funding model.

"NHAI functioning without four members is not good as each of them is responsible for projects in a few states. So, when it functions with only two members dealing with all states, all issues cannot be addressed quickly," said a representative of the National Highway Builders' Federation.

All major decisions relating to the NHAI are taken by an inter-ministerial board, which has seven permanent members - chairman and six members (all from NHAI) - and six part-time members, including Niti Aayog CEO, expenditure and road transport secretaries and director general of roads.

"It's not a good sign for private investors, and major issues relating to PPP don't get addressed quickly. The member (PPP) is tasked to address concerns of private investors. You need to have a member with a tenure of three-to-five years, who deals with these issues and that's why this post was created," said a top executive of a major private funding entity.

However, NHAI officials claimed that all issues of private players are being resolved.

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