Total outstanding debt of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has gone up by nearly 15 times in eight years to stand at
3.48 trillion as on March 22, Parliament was informed on Wednesday. Replying to a written question, minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari said NHAI’s debt was23,797 crore as on March 31, 2014.
In line with the rise in debt, NHAI’s repayment obligation has also seen a constant rise over the years. “NHAI creates valuable road assets which are financially viable. Tolling of the completed public-funded road assets and monetising the assets through toll-operate-transfer (ToT) / infrastructure investment trust (InvIT) modes are major steps taken by the government to generate revenue for repayment of the loans and further construction by NHAI , ”Gadkari said.
With a view to ensure a sustainable debt level, regular exercise for balancing its assets and liabilities is undertaken by the NHAI, he said. The rise in NHAI’s debt level is mainly because of the continuous rise in highway construction and toll receipts not matching with the cost of construction. From 1,901 km in 2013-14, NHAI’s construction of highways increased to 4,218 km in 2020-21. While the government has been making efforts to attract private investors into the sector after large-scale investments by them more than a decade ago unravelled and became stressed assets for banks due to lower-than-estimated growth in toll collections, investors continue to be wary . The bulk of the new investments continues to be through either the conventional EPC or the hybrid annuity model, where too the private investors hardly takes any real risk.