Initially set up to improve roads in the northeast, a fledgling state-owned company has now seen its mandate expanded to cover other hill states as well as the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where it is undertaking an ambitious sea-link project in the strategically important archipelago that is being developed as a maritime hub….writes Rupesh Dutta
The two-km, Rs 1,000 crore sea link across a sliver of the Bay of Bengal is part of the over Rs 4,000-crore worth of projects undertaken in the Andamans by the National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL), which achieved “Mini Ratna” status in only its second year of existence.
The company, which has garnered projects worth a whopping Rs 100,000 crore ($14 billion) since its inception in July 2014, will also be building around 360 km of modern roads across the islands that suffer from poor connectivity and lack of infrastructure.
The infrastructure focus is part of a larger Rs 10,000 crore plan to transform the Andaman and Nicobar islands into the country’s first maritime hub. Considering the territory’s strategic importance, the governments wants to develop infrastructure in the territory, including dry docks and roads, among others.
The sea link, between Bamboo Flat on the South Andaman and Chatham island, will cut down travel time from three hours to 15 minutes. While this is the showpiece project, there are several others that are key to better connectivity in the Andamans, according to Anand Kumar, Managing Director, NHIDCL.
“The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has transferred the road upgradation of Andaman-Trunk (AT) Road to NHIDCL,” Kumar, told IANS, adding that the project includes construction of two bridges of 1.5 km over Humphrey Straight Creek and Middle Straight Creek at a cost of Rs 423 crore and an execution deadline of three years.
“NHIDCL has moved quickly and obtained forest clearance for Humphrey Straight Creek and is likely to award the work at a cost of Rs 232 crore (soon),” said Kumar, a 1984 batch IAS officer of the Kerala cadre.
Promising that the construction of AT Road will be done to global standards, Kumar said: “We are also likely to award (a part) of the work for AT Road at the cost of Rs 136 crore over the next week. The work should be over in 18 months.”
Kumar said the designing of the sea link connecting Bamboo Flat and Chatham Island is in DPR (Detailed Project Report) preparation stage and the work should be awarded within one month.
Kumar — who has been leading the NHIDCL since its inception — has also successfully obtained the long-pending clearance from the Navy for the construction of the bridges.
As part of widening of the existing NH-223, the company will also do two-laning with a paved shoulder of the Port Blair-Mayabunder-Diglipur road at a cost of over Rs 300 crore. “We will try to award the work by March 31,” he said.
NHIDCL was launched with the mandate of quickly constructing over 4,000 km of roads and highways in the northeastern states to improve connectivity in the long-neglected region that has sensitive borders with China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Given its timely execution of projects in the region, the company’s mandate was soon expanded to include the hill and border states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where it has been assigned the task of constructing 6,841 km of roads and highways at an estimated cost of Rs 45,164 crore.
“We are the first to start 18 projects in Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh with a total length of 600 km at a cost of Rs 6,500 crore. This year we have started five projects in Arunachal Pradesh,” Anand Kumar had previously told IANS.
The NHIDCL had hit the ground running, taking over the projects of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the Public Works Department (PWD) of the states concerned and started showing immediate results in terms of improving the shoddy conditions of the roads and highways in the region, he added.