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78% of national highways have only one or two lanes

78% of national highways have only one or two lanes

(This story originally appeared in on Oct 17, 2016)

NEW DELHI: In a stark indication of how far India has to go in developing its highway network, latest official statistics reveal that around 78% of national highways are either one or two-lane affairs. One third are less than two lanes, making the task of four-laning India’s economic lifelines a challenging endeavour.

A report of the road transport and highways ministry also shows that nearly 40%, including rural, intra-district and state highways, are not metalled-outlining the limitations in connectivity but also offering hope that road development in remote areas can be a major employment generator for many years to come.

According to the report, just five states -Maharashtra, UP, Karnataka, West Bengal and Assam -account for 43% of the road network. The implications are obvious as fixing the imbalance can be key to literally speeding up India’s economy through smoother freight movement.

Over 14 lakh km of road is yet to be surfaced, over 11.5 lakh km being rural and project roads. While rural roads include stretches owned by panchayats and zila parishads in addition to networks under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, project roads cover stretches built by the forest, irrigation and electricity departments, among others. Road length in India incre ased from 33.73 lakh km in 2000-01to 54.72 lakh km in 2015 and rural roads account for the maximum share of 61% of the entire network. State and national highways, which carry over 60% traffic, have less than 5% share. These are even less than the country’s total urban road network.

A comparative analysis of the report also shows that Assam has the maximum length of non-metalled or unsurfaced roads (nearly 2.67 lakh km) followed by 1.85 lakh km in West Bengal and Maharashtra. Interestingly, Delhi, which ranks fourth in the list of states with maximum urban roads, has nearly 8,700km of non-metalled stretches.

Road transport ministry officials said considering that road development works have a multiplier effect on the economy and job generation, highways minister Nitin Gadkari has given an in-principle approval to increase the length of national highways from 1.05 lakh km to 1.40 lakh km. In fact, the ministry has also revised the norm for qualifying highway stretches for their widening from two lanes to four lanes. Moreover, the ministry has set a target to wi den all national highways to at least two lanes.

National highways mu st be of some standard so that people can find the difference the minute they take NHs.

Simple notification to declare state highways as NHs may have political significance, but the real task lies in expan ding and improving them,“ said S P Singh of IFTRT, a Delhi-based thinktank on transport issues.

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