Indecisive officials dealing with highway projects to face action, warns Nitin Gadkari

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NEW DELHI: Sending out a strong message, Union minister Nitin Gadkari has said the government will consider removal or demotion of officials whose indecisiveness is obstructing highway works as many such projects have also been impacted by the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

“Enough of warning has been given to officials sitting on files and not taking decisions. A large number of our highway projects are suffering due to this. It is time that such officials who despite being promoted and empowered to take decisions be demoted or removed and give chance to those who want to perform,” Gadkari told in an interview.

To make up for the losses incurred in terms of highways projects and to bring them on track, the Road Transport, Highways and MSME Minister Gadkari has already fixed a target to build roads worth Rs 15 lakh crore in the next two years.

Earlier, the Minister, had reviewed 740 highway projects totalling 28,304 km from 16 states and has asked officials and stakeholders to fast-track these. The projects were worth about Rs 5 lakh crore.

“Despite cautioning repeatedly, I have found that a large number of officials specially project directors and regional officers of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) who have been empowered to take decisions on projects up to Rs 50 crore on the spot, keep flooding the head office with queries obstructing work,” Gadkari said.

He said though he was not in a position to provide the exact number of such queries, but said the number is “huge”.

“I have come to a conclusion that it is time to take action against these officials and remove them or demote them. Project Directors and Regional Officers were given rights. They are afraid of taking decisions… taking responsibility and sending each and every query to us. Those who do not exercise their rights, have no right to continue… There is no justification for them to hold the position,” the Minister said.

NHAI has about 175 project directors and 25 regional officers across the country.

The Minister said the NHAI has resumed 95 per cent of work on war-footing now with permission to start construction activities while adhering to guidelines.

On the NHAI arbitration conciliation, he said: “In 22 out 24 ongoing cases adjournment was sought by NHAI officials and I have directed the Chairman to expedite it. Hopefully things will be fast-tracked now.

“Performance audit of each and every official will be done. Those found not performing up to the mark will be shown the exit through compulsory retirement as also said by the Prime Minister. However, good work will equally be rewarded.”

The Minister said his Ministry was conducting performance audit and termed it more important than financial audit.

The minister had earlier said in case of stalling of projects on account of court or tribunal orders, NHAI and the Highways Ministry will put hoardings and banners informing people behind the reasons for delays.

The issue of timely approval of Extension of Time (EOT) and change of scope (COS) was particularly raised by the Contractors/ Concessionaire during a recent meeting saying timely approvals would help in facilitating lending by banks.

An online portal “GATI” was also launched to fast-track decision making and make the process transparent. A new internal initiative ‘Review Mondays’ had also announced under which meetings of officials on the first and the third Monday of every month will be held to focus on monitoring and review of projects.

Last month, the Minister set an ambitious target of 60 km per day highway construction to ensure speedy recovery of the economy from the shocks of COVID-19 pandemic.

“Earlier, I had kept a target of 30 km per day for construction of highways and we have achieved it. Now I am thinking of taking it to 60 km per day. The speed of development of the road projects should be 2-3 times faster,” he said replying to a query on government’s plans for development of infrastructure post-lockdown.

Recently, state-run NHAI said that it has accomplished construction of 3,979 km of national highways in 2019-20, which was the highest ever highway construction achieved in a financial year by the company.

In fiscal FY2019, NHAI had constructed 3,380 km of national highways.

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Tagged contractors, coronavirus, highways ministry, lockdown, MSME, National Highways Authority of India, Nitin gadkari

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