Fact Check: Did UPA Build More Highway Length Than NDA?

A Congress functionary has claimed that if the new formula is applied, more length was built during the UPA than the 38 lane-km per day claimed by the Narendra Modi regime. What does the data say?

New Delhi: Following the inauguration of the first phase of the Delhi-Mumbai expressway, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted, “So India added 38 kms of highway construction every day in 2022, highest in the world. That’s a remarkable achievement.” The claim was rebuffed by All India Congress Committee in-charge administration Gurdeep Singh Sappal barely an hour later, when he said that more road length was constructed during the UPA regime on per day basis.

Sappal tweeted that on the basis of the new formula to calculate road length, the UPA government constructed more highways per day than the Narendra Modi government.

In the tweet, Sappal shared a screenshot of a story by Business Standard, titled “Govt shifts to new formula: To show highway construction in better light.” In a subsequent tweet, he shared the article and commented, “read this news to understand statistics, lies and damn lies”. He also argued through a tweet that “UPA built 27282 kms of new multi-lane highways. That time one km of multi-lane highway was counted as one km only. This is an average of 7.5 km per days for full ten years!”

So, whose claim is correct? On the face of it, a straight comparison is difficult because of the change in the yardstick, adopted in 2018, for measuring the length of new roads that were laid.

The lane-kilometre method was introduced on April 1, 2018. It replaced the traditional linear length method. Minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari had then said that it would provide a “more realistic assessment of the total length that has been constructed. It is an internationally adopted norm… countries like United States follows this standard.”

Average km of road had less than four lanes in 2017-18

For the year 2017-18, it was then stated that the calculation would change to 34,378 km of construction as against 9,829 km if counted linearly. So, on average a kilometre of road had nearly four lanes. While the change impacted the government’s calculation of roads, for the highway developers there was not much change – many of them were already using the lane-km format for their calculations.

It would be pertinent to note that according to the Annual Report 2020-21 of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), as on March 31, 2020, the length share of the single lane-intermediate lane highways in total highways was 20.49%; that of double lane highways was 55.05% and of the 4/6/8 lane highways was 24.46%.

So this data too shows that the average lane size of highways is less than four. Therefore, if the average of 7.5 km per day during the UPA period is considered, it can be converted into the present formula by multiplying by four – which works out to 30 lanes-km per day. In 2022, the Modi government claims to have built 38 km of highways per day.

Therefore, Sappal is right to the extent that when converted to lane-km, the UPA execution was much better. The 7.5 km of average highway road length it did is almost equivalent to 30 km of lane-km length as per the new measurement criteria.

However, the claim on UPA having clocked over 38 lane-km per day appears slightly exaggerated as per the conversion matrix, since past data revealed that one km of length was not more than 4 lane-km as per the new norm.

NH constitute nearly 2% of all road, state highways another 3%

As per data released by MoRTH at the “Manthan” conference held in January this year in Bengaluru to discuss issues in road, transport and logistics sectors, India’s road network spans 63.73 lakh km – the second largest in the world.

The data also showed that very little credit can be claimed by the Modi government, as the length of the national highways – at 1,44,634 km – was just about 2% of the total road length, while that of the state highways – at 1,86,908 km – was just around 3%. The other roads – at 59,02,539 km – accounted for nearly 95% of the total length.

While the national highways are developed, maintained and managed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), the state highways come under the jurisdiction and responsibility of the state governments.

Apart from this, there are the district roads which constitute nearly 15% of road length – which come under the Zila Parishads or district councils; the rural road which are nearly 73% of the network and are constructed and maintained by the village panchayats; and the border roads which are constructed and maintained by the Border Roads Organisation.

The data provided by the Ministry also revealed that the pace of construction of national highways increased from about 12 km/day in 2014-15 to 36.5 km/day in 2020-21, before dropping to 28.6 km/day in 2021-22.

Also, it showed that in 2014-15, the length of national highways already stood at 97,830 km and from there it grew to 144,634 km by November 30, 2022. Overall, there was a 47.85% growth in this length during the period.

Highway construction faced several constraints in UPA rule

A look at the replies of the ministers of the UPA regime in Parliament also reveals that the overall scenario then did not support the construction of national highways at a rapid pace.

On July 7, 2009, in response to a question from Congress MP Naveen Jindal, then road transport and highways minister Kamal Nath stated that “the Government has identified the reasons impeding the timely construction and proper maintenance of National Highways. The main constraints in implementation of the projects are delays due to land acquisition, utility shifting, obtaining forest / environment clearances, clearance for rail over bridges, poor performance of contractors, budgetary constraints, etc.”

Then in April 2010, minister of state R.P.N. Singh submitted in response to a question in the Lok Sabha that “in year 2009-10 against a target of 3165 km, NHAI has completed construction of 2693 km i.e. 7.4 km per day. The rate of construction is to be progressively increased to reach the rate of 20 km per day.”

After the Modi government came to power, in response to a question in Lok Sabha in August 2015, the then minister of state Pon Radhakrishnan had submitted that in 2012-13, a total of 5,732 km of national highways was constructed and this figure increased dropped to 4,260 km in 2013-14 and then rose marginally to reach 4,410 km in 2014-15.