Road infrastructure is the marrow of economic growth of a nation as it connects various geographical locations for trade and commerce to flow. Roads, especially highways, are also instrumental to strategic pursuits such as building international relationships, which in turn impact the nation’s economy.
In line with this fact, Indian governments in the past initiated several infrastructural undertakings to strengthen the national economy and bolster international ties. Developing highways compliant with global benchmarks, however, has remained an unmet challenge until now.
The current Central government in a bid to overcome these challenges and modernise the highways sector started a domestic cluster project that spreads to the East, with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) at the helm of affairs. The Centre is subsuming these and several other similar road projects, started by the governments of the past, under its umbrella program named Bharatmala Pariyojna. Other projects under the NHAI’s 80,000-km-plus Bharatmala undertaking include the National Highways Development Project among several others.
The cluster project involves several subprojects for integrating advanced technology into the highways sector and overhauling national highways. These subprojects include, but aren’t limited to, Wayside Amenities (WSAs), Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), dedicated mobile application (Sukhad Yatra) for highway commuters, Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS), industrial drones and remote sensing for highway projects, GPS tolling, green highways, and solar farms.
Of these, WSA, ETC, Sukhad Yatra, ATMS, and drones and LiDARS are already functional, and are in various phases of completion. Other initiatives such as GPS tolling are in their pilot phase and are showing promise.
More on the National & International Projects
WSA consists of three substructures – Highway Nest, Highway Nest (Mini), Highway Village – that provide civic amenities and safety to motorists on national highways on par with global standards. Several Nest and Nest (Mini) structures have already been constructed on many national highways. Village, the largest of them all sprawling over five-acres of land, is in its initial construction phase, and will act as a large ‘highway port’ and house advanced amenities.
The ETC system has been introduced at several Toll gates across the nation, and aims to promote the government’s drive to digitalise the public sector and its services. It uses Automatic Vehicle Detection technology and RFID-encoded stickers to read the Toll invoice and deduct the fee automatically and instantly.
Sukhad Yatra is a highways-utility mobile application that provides navigation, mapping, and electronic-toll-payment services for national highways users.
ATMS – a part of the Intelligent Transport System – is a centralised hub that consists of a sting of technologies to process and handle data on highway-related incidents including accidents, gridlocks and traffic jams, natural disasters, and others. The data on the incident is used to deploy the suitable transport and staff.
All domestic highway projects are currently being monitored and supported by drones and LiDARs.
Besides upgrading its inland roads, transport, and logistics, India is also expanding outwards with its 1,360-km India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMTTH) project. The intra-continental project is being built under India’s Look-East policy and will facilitate trade between India and other ASEAN countries and the rest of South-East Asia.
The intra-continental highway starts from Moreh in Manipur (India), traverses through Myanmar, and ends at Mae Sot in Thailand.
The project proposes the construction of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road section (nearly 150 km) and Kalewa-Yargi road section (over 120 km) in Myanmar to improve road connectivity with South-East Asia.
As part of this proposal, India has already finished the construction of a 130-km road connecting Moreh and Tamu in India to Kalewa in Myanmar. Several stretches on the Thailand-Myanmar side of the project are already completed. The construction or upgrading of the rest of the project awaits the finalisation of tenders and contracts, for which consultants have been already appointed.
The India-ASEAN road connectivity project may extend to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The trade route will generate annually an estimated USD 70 billion in incremental GDP output and 20 million in incremental aggregate employment by 2025 for the nations involved.
According to experts, the IMTTH by India and ASEAN will counterbalance the impact of People’s Republic of China’s intercontinental road and maritime trade route, One Belt One Road (OBOR), on Asia.
Besides these, India is also a part of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, East-Asia Summit, United Nations Economic & Social Commission for Asia & the Pacific, the Trans-Asian Railway network, and several other committees, and is currently working on several Look East infrastructure projects.
The domestic and international undertakings by the Union government and its highways wing, the NHAI, are helping the country build the roads of the future, establish productive relationships, and cement its place as a global force of trade and commerce.