More than 100 ‘Aspirational Districts’ of India will witness construction of 5,795 kilometres of national highways under a Rs 1-trillion plan, which is about to be unveiled.
The road ministry has nominated 221 projects for expansion, in addition to the 5,566-km of roadways already under construction in those districts, at a cost of Rs 66,000 crore.
This comes at a time when previous reports highlighted that since the 2014-15 financial year, the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) debt increased 14 times from Rs 24,188 crore to over Rs 3 trillion at the end of January this year. Specifically, in FY22 and FY21, it borrowed close to Rs 65,000 crore each. But reportedly the central government now intends to cut it by Rs 1 trillion by 2024-25.
The list of phase 1 and phase 2 of the Aspirational Districts Programme, which was launched in 2018, includes several districts from states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana and others. Through the convergence of central and state schemes, the collaboration of central and state-level authorities and monthly district rankings, this programme intends to speedily transform least-developed districts.
All ‘Aspirational Districts’ are already connected by highways, according to data from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), and the extension will improve economic activity in these places.
In the past five years, over 6,000 km of national highways have been built in the country, connecting ambitious districts. According to the ministry’s annual report, in the first nine months of FY 2021-22, 5,835-km national highways have been constructed.
However, over the next five years, the overall length of the national highway network in these aspirational districts will increase to more than 18,000 km.
As per NITI Aayog, “This programme closely focuses on improving people’s ability to participate fully in the burgeoning economy. Districts are prodded and encouraged to first catch up with the best district within their state, and subsequently aspire to become one of the best in the country, by competing with, and learning from others in the spirit of competitive & cooperative federalism.”
It also explained the selection process stating: “The ranking is based on the incremental progress made across 49 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) under 5 broad socio-economic themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development and Infrastructure.”
“The delta-ranking of Aspirational Districts and the performance of all districts is available on the Champions of Change Dashboard,” noted NITI Aayog, which has been working closely with the respective line Ministries and development partners to fast-track progress at the district level.
However, according to experts, for these districts, connection (via national highway) would be a force multiplier in bringing growth to those places and the almost 250 million people who live there.
Additionally, during the latest budget session, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has set a goal of increasing the country’s National Highways network by 25,000 km in 2022-2023, up from 12,000 km in the fiscal year 2022.