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Review: Here is all about the ‘National Highways’ Rating Mechanism

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The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) recently released the first of its kind ratings for 219 stretches of National Highways on three broad parameters of efficiency, safety, and user services. Here is a review of these ratings. 

National Highways (NH) are among the most important public assets of the country. They not only enable faster movement of people & goods but also enable economic development & growth. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) recently released the ratings for 18,668 km of completed 4/6 lane NH stretches in India that cover 343 toll plazas. The exercise was carried out by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) under the MoRTH.  The fundamental objective of highway rating is ‘minimum time with maximum safety in the stress-free environment from highway users’ perspective so that all highway users’ expectation to reach their destination safely in minimum possible time with pleasing experience on the road network can be met’.

Rating exercise to be conducted bi-annually 

According to the Highway Rating report, the exercise is a first of its kind initiative in the world. NHAI is also planning to make this a regular exercise regular by carrying it out twice each year- once in the month of April and once in the month of October. 

Scoring done for 39 parameters under three broad criteria of safety, services, and efficiency

Toll plazas manage the National Highway stretches under them. This influence length of each toll plaza, called ‘cell’, has been taken as the unit of measurement for the ranking mechanism. The overall rating of each section/corridor is calculated by adding the ratings of the requisite cells along the section. The evaluation of cells takes place as per the stipulated methodology. This helps in understanding the efficiency, safety, and availability of user services at the cell level, or under each toll plaza. 

A total of 39 parameters under three broad criteria have been considered under Highway Efficiency, Highway Safety, and User Services. The Highways are evaluated for a total of 100 marks. Maximum weightage has been given for Highway Efficiency (45 marks) under which 15 parameters including operating speed on the main carriageway, delay at the toll plaza, the volume of traffic, payment quality, and functionality of drains have been covered. Highway Safety constitutes 35 marks and covers 14 parameters pertaining to accidents, ambulance services and response time, illegal median openings, and facilities disturbing traffic have been taken into account. User Services which comprise a total of 20 marks considers 10 parameters including the number of medians and footpaths, cleanliness, the functioning of toilets and availability of drinking water, encroachment, and illegal hoardings, etc. 

Four corridors have been covered under the latest ratings

Four corridors that traverse the whole country and form part of the Golden Quadrilateral and NS-EW Corridor were selected for the evaluation. These are the following. 

  • Agra – Mumbai (1,084 kms) 
  • Pune – Vijayawada (856 kms) 
  • Mumbai – Kolkata (1,927 kms)
  • Bangalore – Kanyakumari (655 kms)

The ratings of each corridor are meant for the identification of the issues that curtail their proper functioning to arrive at solutions to rectify the issues. 

Total of 219 Highways have been ranked 

A total of 219 Highways have been ranked in the report. Each of these stretches is identified by the Project Implementation Unit (PIU), name of the section, NH Number, length of the highway, name of agency involved in the implementation, along with the marks under each criterion. 

NH-48 section connecting Ahmedabad and Vadodara is ranked the best

As per the recently released ratings, the NH-48 section connecting Ahmedabad and Vadodara stretching over 102.3 km has been ranked number one with an overall score of 91.81 out of 100. PIU Ahmedabad manages NH-48 and two other highways- NE-1and NH-47. NE-1 is the Ahmedabad to Vadodara Expressway which has been ranked 3 with an overall score of 90.78. Thus, 2 out of 3 projects under PIU Ahmedabad are in the top 3 with more than 90 marks. Meanwhile, NH-47’s stretch from Ahmedabad to Godhra is ranked 145. 

In terms of efficiency, Simga to Sargaon Highway (NH- 130) under PIU Bilaspur is the most efficient highway with an efficiency score of 43.39 out of 45. NH-48 under Ahmedabad which has an overall rank of 1, is the second most efficient. 

NH-44 under PIU Nagpur which has an overall rank of 26 is the safest highway in the country with 33.07 marks out of 35 in safety, followed by Goa/Karnataka to Kundapur Highway (NH- 66), which has an overall rank 2. 

NH- 6 under PIU Nagpur with an overall rank of 21 is the best in terms of user services, with a score of 19 out of 20. 

The longest highway section of those rated as per the current report, connecting Balangir and Khordha traversing around 366 km is ranked 96 with a score of 70.52.

Indore to Dewas section of NH-3 under PIU-Indore is ranked last (219) with a score of 36.96. It is also the least safe highway. Two sections under PIU-Visakhapatnam of NH- 16 are ranked 216 and 217. Delhi to Rohtak section of NH-10 under PIU- Rohtak is ranked 218.

The list of highways on the basis of their rankings and score is given below.

IRB Infrastructure developers Ltd. And L&T dominate the rankings

Another observation with respect to the implementation agencies is that the IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd. is behind the top-ranked three highways. Even rank 5, NH- 211 under PIU- Solapur is managed by IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd, implying that 4 out of 5 of the best National Highways in India are managed by IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd. Highways ranked 4 and 6 are managed by Larsen & Toubro Ltd. As mentioned in the report, this exercise is being carried out for the first time and hence, the accuracy of the ratings is expected to improve with each publication. 

Ranking mechanism is required to ensure that people get quality service, safety, and facilities they are paying for.

The length of NHs in India has increased from 91,287 km in April 2014 to about 1,32,500 km as of December 2019. Improving highways does not just mean the quality of roads but also improvement in comfort, speed, safety, access, and lower vehicle operating costs. Highway users pay a toll to use the highway networks in the country and expect quality services in return. What people want is fast, efficient, and safe mobility on highways. 

Such a ranking mechanism is useful for setting standards for highway services and brings the quality of Indian Highways on par with that in developed nations. The report mentions that quality improvement of the highways will shift the freight transport towards roads thereby improving India’s ranking in ‘The Logistics Performance Index’. Moreover, conducting these assessments will be useful to identify the gaps in standards, practices, guidelines, and contract agreements. By identifying the gaps, measures can be taken to address the issues and ensure quality services to the highway users. Furthermore, having regular rating and ranking practices will increase competition among contractors to perform better and force them to maintain the stipulated standards. 

Vendor performance evaluation system launched to rate vendors based on their performance

The Ministry has also stated that it has begun real-time monitoring of toll plazas across the country to improve traffic congestion problems at toll plazas/city roads/highways by using a central monitoring system along with a bundle of analytics and quick decision-making outputs. Another measure to ensure quality service is being provided is through the ‘Vendor Performance Evaluation System’ developed by NHAI where the vendors have to conduct self-assessment and upload documents related to project activities being executed by them.

The portal contains provisions for rating the projects according to the mode of implementation and status of completion under BOT (Toll), BOT (Annuity), HAM, EPC works, and for Authority’s Engineer, Independent Engineer, and DPR Consultants. This will be subject to review in multiple levels to generate a rating which is shared with the vendor to make sure that the evaluation is being done in a balanced way. The rating would be considered a qualification criterion for awarding new projects to vendors, thereby increasing their accountability.

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