• Niti Aayog wants chief in NHAI to monitor projects

    In a throwback to the Planning Commission era when its secretary used to be an integral part of the National Highway Authority of India’s (NHAI) board, the Niti Aayog has proposed to the PMO that its CEO Amitabh Kant be inducted in the authority’s board. The step will help fast track clearances to highway projects at a time when the Centre is struggling to meet the current construction rate target of highways of 40 km per day.

    Significantly, it is for the first time since the Planning Commission made way for Niti Aayog that a proposal bearing testament to the olden era has been mooted in the NDA regime.

    The move which has been jointly mooted by the government think tank in tandem with the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH), is aimed at empowering the NHAI board to clear all highway projects on its own, instead of taking the prevailing long winding route of seeking clearances from MoRTH and the finance ministry, prior to sending them for Cabinet approval. With Niti Aayog being the PMO’s policy arm, presence of its CEO in NHAI board will strengthen it further to clear projects.

    Highly placed sources confirmed to this newspaper that during the Planning Commission era, the plan panel’s secretary used to be a part of the NHAI board and as the plan body’s status was equivalent to the Union Cabinet, the presence of its secretary on the authority’s board helped in expediting clearances to highway projects.

    Sources further informed that Mr Kant’s presence in NHAI’s board will, just like earlier times, not only help in cutting short the process of appraising highway projects, but will also empower the board to clear projects of smaller as well as higher values on its own and send them for Cabinet approval, thus saving valuable time.

    At present, the NHAI board proposes a highway project, and if its less than worth Rs 1,000 crore, then MoRTH itself clears and sends it for Cabinet approval. However, if the project is more than Rs 1,000 crore in value, then MoRTH forwards it to the finance ministry where the expenditure department scrutinises it and after multiple layers of scrutiny and whetting, it is sent for Cabinet approval, thus taking a lot of time in the process.

    While MoRTH has set for itself an ambitious target of constructing 40 km of highway stretches on a daily basis, it is being felt that owing to the long process of clearing projects, the target is a bit too steep and in actuality only around 20 km of roads per day are being constructed.

    The NHAI board consists of seven full time members including the chairman, while there are four part-time members, thus making it an 11-member board. Mr Kant will be the 12th member of the board. MacKenzie Weegar Jersey

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