Concrete roads cost almost just as much as laying bitumen roads and they last longer too. Concrete roads have a life expectancy of 20-30 years, without any need for relaying. Bitumen roads, at their theoretical best value, can survive for 5 years without repair. Do we need any other reason to opt for concrete roads? Why then have we been postponing this much needed shift? While developed countries on an average have 30 per cent of their road network in concrete, we are still at 2 per cent.
Even after 65 years of independence, the country is still relying on obsolete conventional bitumen pavement technology. These roads eat away huge funds in their regular maintenance, which otherwise would have been used for addition of new network of roads and creating new capital assets. About 70 per cent of the bitumen requirement for the road works in India is met through imports, costing huge sums of forex to the nation. On the other hand, cement an indigenous product of international quality is available in plenty in India. The present cement capacity is 360 mtpa, estimated to increase to about 700 mtpa by 2022, which will comfortably meet all the domestic cement demand.
Is it just the lack of political will and inefficiency? Or is it the scope of corruption available in laying bitumen roads that has kept the nation in a pothole? Most bitumen roads require a fresh layer in a year or two. And that works out very well for the bitumen road contractors.
Profit earned in laying one km of a tar road is almost four times of that earned in laying a concrete road. Plus, tar roads require relaying, thus assuring repeat business to the contractor. The economics here is very obvious and the road ministry is taking a bold step in going against this babu-contractor nexus.