At the heart of his criticism is the delay in decision making and a lack of monitoring. Some officials, however, blamed the delays on overambitious contractors.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s rebuke - on video - for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) regarding the delay in completing its new office building has cast a shadow on the functioning of the body.
He was remotely inaugurating the new NHAI building in Dwarka, which took nine years to complete.
His principal peeve was the tardiness in decision making and lack of monitoring.
Some officials, however, blamed the contractors for this.
“When delays happen, officials do not want to take decisions since they fear corruption charges can be levelled against them,” said an official.
Former road secretary Vijay Chhibber, who also headed the NHAI for a short while, agreed with Gadkari’s criticism of the authority.
“Why should a building take so long to complete?” Chhibber asked.
The minister, too, said: “You (NHAI) take action against contractors but never against PDs (project directors) and independent engineers.”
The minister said the photographs of the officials responsible for the delay should be displayed in the building “so that people came to know about those great personalities who took nine years to construct it”.
Gadkari said he was ashamed at the delays in decision making by NHAI officials.
This has cost the sector dear and he wanted the authority to function in a “transparent, time-bound, result-oriented, qualitative and corruption-free” manner.
The minister also referred to a report prepared by then joint secretary Leena Nandan on bringing efficiency in NHAI functioning.
An official in the know said: “It encouraged delegating authority. It was found that since decision making revolved around a few people, it caused inordinate delay.”
When it comes to highway construction, delays sometimes have been on the part of finance ministry officials too.
An official said: “When we go to them for project approval, they are not very forthcoming in their approvals.
"We are trying to streamline the process so that project execution does not suffer.”
Raghav Chandra, former NHAI chairman, however, blamed contractors for delays in highway construction.
“Inefficient contractors, who bite more than they can chew, have posed problems in the past for NHAI.
"During 2010-15, several companies bid for the BOT (build-operate-transfer) projects but diverted funds raised for those projects elsewhere. That did a lot of damage to the sector,” he said.
Chandra said delay in land acquisition was a challenge companies faced.
“For some projects, land acquisition did not happen on time and, therefore, they got delayed but primarily the states have to do that.
"Unless there is synergy between contractors and governments, things cannot run efficiently,” he said.
Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters