NEW DELHI: The government in its budget has allocated barely Rs 2,600 crore for maintenance of national highways for financial year 2023-24, which is only 1% of the capital expenditure proposed for the highways sector. The capex is used for construction of new highways, widening of existing stretches and building bridges and tunnels, among other works.
While creation of new assets has been the highlight of budget allocations, the fund earmarked for maintenance of the assets has been minimal all these years and nearly 60% less than what the agencies require for upkeep of already built and widened NHs.
So, while the NH-owning agencies are more focused on building new roads, which involves huge investment, there is little priority on maintenance of the highways requiring less expenditure. This is also evident from the data of the past few years which show that the agencies have either somehow managed to spend the amount allocated in the budget estimate (BE) for maintenance or the actual spending has been less. On the contrary, all agencies under the highways ministry have been spending more than the BE when it comes to capital expenditure or building new roads, bridges and tunnels, and expansion of highways.
“This has been a routine for years. Failure to even spend the allocated amount for maintenance doesn’t mean that all the existing roads were perfectly maintained and there was no need for spending on this,” said an official.
A parliamentary standing committee on transport had recently flagged inadequate allocation of funds for maintenance and repair (M&R) of NHs and had observed that the M&R should get higher priority than construction of new NHs. “Any reduction in the budget for M&R may result in deterioration of the roads constructed with hundreds of crores of national budget which will be national wastage,” it had said.
The recently presented budget proposal also has another interesting aspect. For 2023-24, the government has proposed less funding from the CRIF (fuel cess) for the road sector, which means most of the fund will come from the government’s budget.
For example, while in 2022-23, the NHAI got Rs 1.13 lakh crore from the CRIF out of the entire allocation of Rs 1.41 lakh crore; for 2023-24, the government has proposed only Rs 1,400 crore from the CRIF.