The CAG report on Bharatmala, the government’s flagship highway development programme, has referred to the decision of the NHAI board meeting of November 16, 2017 where the delegation of powers for appraisal and approval of government funded or EPC projects was given the go ahead.
The decision specified that projects costing up to Rs 500 core can be appraised by an internal appraisal committee headed by NHAI chairman and can be approved by the chairman. For projects costing between Rs 500 crore and Rs 1,000 crore, committees chaired by designated members can appraise them and the executive committee under NHAI chairman can approve them. In the case of projects costing more than Rs 1,000 crore, a committee headed by the member concerned can appraise them and these can be approved by the NHAI board. The board has representatives from other ministries as well.
Officials said the appraisal committee headed by members from NHAI also have representatives from Niti Aayog.
The CAG, in its report, said that as per the NHAI Act, at least two non-government professionals having knowledge or experience in financial management, transportation planning or any other relevant discipline were to be appointed as part-time members of NHAI board. It said this requirement was also insisted by Niti Aayog while commenting on the draft Cabinet note on Bharatmala programme during inter-ministerial consultation. However, non-government professionals were not appointed to the NHAI Board.
The audit report said, “Implication of such delegation to NHAI whereby the EPC projects to be implemented by NHAI were to be entirely appraised and approved within NHAI only with no financial capping defined, were evident in test checks done by audit.”
The CAG has recommended the government to review the project appraisal and approval mechanism, including delegation of powers, for ensuring proper scrutiny, selection and approval of all modes of project construction at competent levels.
CAG cites ‘avoidable lapses’ in land acquisition
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in its report on the Bharatmala highway development programme, has cited “avoidable lapses” of implementing agencies while acquiring land. It found that only the NHAI had 1,635 hectares of surplus land till March 2021.
The auditor said the highway construction agencies failed to scrutinise land schedules and land acquisition plans and also failed to match the same with actual alignment of the project, which resulted in acquisition of excess land than required for projects.