In the mid nineties, the Government of India and a few of the country's states were on the look out for new ways of building affordable and sustainable roads. Important reforms were already underway at the national level. Among these were the creation of the National Highways Authority of India and the start of private participation in building and maintaining road infrastructure.
Within the road agencies themselves, there was continuing tension between the old ways of doing business such as the in-house and monolithic infrastructure delivery systems against the adoption of modern approaches that emphasized commercial, transparent, and strategic sector management.
The World Bank's 1996 State’s Road Infrastructure Development Technical Assistance (TA) Project for $51.5 million came at an opportune time. It has helped the replication and expansion of the national reforms down to the states.
Broadly, the Project had three main objectives. It sought to fulfill these in at least six, and upto twelve states:
- Supporting the planning, financing, provision, maintenance and management of road infrastructure reforms by states’ road agencies,
- Supporting the preparation of major road infrastructure investment proposals aimed at improving the efficiency of the state road transport network,
- Assisting states with greater privatization of roads engineering, construction, works, supervision and maintenance services in the sector.
In all, 16 states participated in the project. The project introduced these states to the latest thinking in the sector. It helped train them in the scientific identification of road corridors, the efficient management of environmental and resettlement issues, the application of stringent quality controls and procurement procedures, and the mapping and monitoring of road networks.
In sum, it helped start the process of modernizing road management institutions in India that were capable of sustaining their reform momentum. The key outcomes are summarized below:
- 11 states undertook studies to initiate the sector reform process. Five of these, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Mizoram and Karnataka, have moved forward with the implementation of their institutional action plans. Many states completed the preparation of formal policy documents during the life of the project.
- Loans worth US$ 1.9 billion have been approved by the Bank to seven states for the upgradation and rehabilitation of close to 14,000 kilometers of key state road corridors. This has been done in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, and Uttar Pradesh. In addition, the Asian Development Bank is financing a State Highway Project in Madhya Pradesh, partially prepared under the TA project. Meanwhile, five other states have also requested Bank assistance for preparation and financing of new state highway projects. The process of selection of road stretches for upgradation has been scientific and economic and the Project had helped in raising the quality and efficiency of the project preparation process.
- The level of outsourcing has substantially increased. Participating states are not only employing private consultants and contractors for project implementation but also in planning, design and information management. Several states have created Road Development Corporations (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh) for channelising private sector funds into the sector. Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, although their involvement in the TA was limited, have been very innovative in experimenting with new approaches.
- A network of professional staff that regularly interacts to share best practices has grown. These senior road agency staff have begun competing for professional recognition, which is likely to result in a raising of standards for all aspects of road infrastructure management.
- Awareness among road agencies on road safety and the resettlement and rehabilitation aspects of road construction has improved.