The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, popularly called “the watchdog of public finance,” has wavered a red flag while illustrating the discrepancies in Modi’s flagship project: the Bharatmala Pariyojana.
The report drags our attention to a cause of imminent worry, as it speaks volumes about the negligence and absurdities associated with India’s second-longest highway construction project.
While the CAG attaches a precarious label to the Modi government’s one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects, we, the taxpayers of India, must be aware of the alarm raised by the guarantee of our public purse.
An incredulous increase in the cost of constructing the project:
The CAG clearly states an abnormal increase in the Highway construction cost against the amount sanctioned by the cabinet. In 2017, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved phase one of the Bharatmala Pariyojana at INR 15.4 crore per kilometre for 34,800 kilometres of land.
Please refer to the figure above against the actual amount spent. The CAG divulged that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways increased the cost to a whopping INR 32 crore per kilometre for a stretch of 26,316 kilometres of land. Thus, while the work shrunk, the cost of construction doubled!
In 2017 the cabinet sanctioned INR 5.35 lakh crore for the flagship project. Six years later, the pinch from the public treasury increased by a whopping 57% as the Modi government is spending INR 8.46 lakh crore for the same project.
The deadline for the first phase of the project was 2022. However, as we speak, only 39% of the project has reached completion. Where is a gain for the public in all this, you may ask? There isn’t any.
Why is there an increase in cost?
In its report, the CAG answers the question. But the answer is more perplexing than the question itself. The CAG ambiguously maintains there were “significant changes” and “improved specifications” concerning the sanctioned project that pushed the cost up by INR 10 crore per kilometre.
Citing a reference to the Dwarka-Gurugram highway construction project, the CAG disclosed the cost for construction to be a whopping INR 250.7 crore per kilometre against the previously approved INR 18.2 crore per kilometre, an increase of 13 folds!
The reason cited for such an increase is even more bizarre: the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said that the cost of constructing the Dwarka-Gurugram road increased because the government now plans to build an elevated 8-lane infrastructure to ensure smoother traffic.
The stretch of Dwarka-Gurugram road handles a daily traffic of 55,400 vehicles, and the government believes in constructing an eight-lane highway for the same. However, the CAG could not extract any justification regarding how the ministry operated another six-lane project that handled the daily traffic of 2,33,000 passenger vehicles.
Hence, the funding behind Bharatmala Pariyojana gets contradicted on several grounds.
Tenders got distributed haphazardly:
Another concerning nuance related to the Bharatmala project revealed by the CAG was the lack of caution while disbursing the tenders. The report illustrated that the government did not follow the “approved mechanisms” during the distribution of tenders.
There were accounts of bidders getting selected based on ‘falsified documents’ and ‘faulty project reports.’ Some successful bidders failed to fulfil the necessary conditions, and the implementing agencies gave away the tenders without ensuring the availability of requisite land.
In some cases, bidders got chosen sans any ‘environmental clearance.’ The CAG also maintained that some roads constructed under the Bharatmala Pariyojana failed to meet ‘safety benchmarks.’
Gautam Adani, one of India’s most affluent individuals and a business tycoon infamous for his alleged nexus with the Modi government, gained an INR 1,838 crore worth of highway project under the Bharatmala Pariyojana in Kerala.
Under the Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL), Gautam Adani registered another significant stretch of the project at INR 1140 crore of a 53.3-kilometre Bilaspur-Patrapali section of NH-111 (New NH-130) in Chhattisgarh. His involvement in this speculative scheme only ascertains the opposition’s claims of “Crony Capitalism”.
Misrepresentation of data and misuse of toll taxes:
The CAG illustrated discrepancies related to the collection of toll taxes in its report. In South India alone, the government has allegedly banked INR 154 crores as undue toll taxes, where commuters were made to pay taxes on delayed projects and old bridges too!
The CAG rounded up the Modi government by illustrating that a fund of INR 1.57 lakh crores set aside for other schemes got spent at the Bharatmala Pariyojana instead. Seventy-eight other schemes (with no connection to the Bharatmala Pariyojana) were advertised as achievements and extensions of the Bharatmala Pariyojana.
The reports by the CAG have divulged that this flagship scheme by the Modi Government has no credible foundation and resembles a scam of severe magnitude.