A latest World Bank (WB) study has praised the Gujarat Government for introducing exemplary reforms in the State’s Road Sector, saying that the initiative should be replicated by other Indian states to establish an “enabling framework” for creating “efficient governance.” Titled “Good Governance in Highway Sector: Learning from Gujarat,” the 60-page report is based on the implementation of the World Bank-funded Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP) during the 2001-07 period. The project was implemented by the State Roads and Building ((R&B) Department.
Identifying private sector involvement as a crucial factor in shaping the reforms in the Highway Sector in Gujarat, the World Bank points out how the R&B department, under principal secretary SS Rathore, a technocrat, switched “from the role of provider to manager of road infrastructure.” This enabled the department to embrace a whole-of-network approach to planning and management of road network development and maintenance, and to take a more integrated approach in the budgeting and funding process, the WB study says. As a result, GSHP was implemented with a significant cost reduction (about 23%)”, even as improving “the network to meet the rapidly growing transport demand in the state.
The apex bank in its report also points out that the GoG’s “road asset management” and “governance” capacities were substantially improved through the policy and planning initiative. The Policy and Planning Unit (PPU) set up in the R&B department was assigned a responsibility to prepare annual budget plans for the department by using a computer-based Gujarat Road Management System (GRMS) that is now operational for about 20,000 km of the State’s highest priority major roads. GRMS has helped the R&B department address maintenance funding issues which are typically difficult for most of road agencies in developing countries and has facilitated a more effective dialogue with the Finance Department about maintenance funding, the WB observes.
The bank further points out that Gujarat was one of the first States in India to develop a strategic or core road network by applying the 80/20 rule i.e. 80% of the traffic was carried by 20% of the road network and that part of the network should be prioritized for further development and asset management. The concept was first formulated in 2001, which was further crystallized under the Bank-funded Gujarat State Highway Project. It has noted that “Gujarat has been lucky to have reform-minded government exhibiting strong political will and clear vision of its ambitious goals for the development and prosperity of the State. The political commitment to implementation of the Infrastructure Vision is also demonstrated through close politico-bureaucracy relationship and exemplary inter-departmental coordination. Gujarat was the first State in India to have a law governing Build, Own and Transfer (BOT) transaction and such other arrangements along with private participation in infrastructure projects.
The apex bank stresses that: “The GSHP had the unique distinction of no contract disputes, a rarity among highway development projects in India,” even as it set best practices in “developing and managing a very comprehensive asset management system, state-of-the-art quality assurance framework and a very comprehensive training and capacity building programme.”
Noting that the current planned road network size in Gujarat of 74,111 km is among the highest in terms of network density per sq km in India, the report says, it is also “among the best managed networks.” Investment in new roads in Gujarat increased six times compared to the pre-reforms times, with the state paying more attention to maintenance than any other state. It spent US$884 per km, 15% more than the second highest spending State – Kerala.
The continuity of a leadership by a technocrat in the Gujarat R&B department has also played a key role in the successful reform of the department, the WB report says, adding that support for a technocrat as Principal Secretary, R&B, was strong and popular among stakeholders.