In a way, the problem is going in circles. The problem is not just about the debt but also the contingent liabilities of NHAI. In fact, the former Chairman of NHAI mentioned that Rs.178,000 crore debt was just the tip of the iceberg because NHAI also had off-balance sheet liabilities to the tune of Rs.65,000 crore and its actual value could be as high as Rs.300,000 crore. When you add this to the existing debt on the books of NHAI, the gravity of the situation becomes quite clear. These typically pertain to litigations where there have been cost and time over-runs and contractors demanded compensation. Either the contingent liability becomes a full liability or the contractors remain under a cash crunch. It is hitting NHAI both ways.

NHAI also has a problem of cost-revenue mismatch. In the last few years, land acquisition costs have gone up geometrically. That was adding to the costs. But the problem was that the toll fees and the returns on these projects were not keeping pace. Also bank funding for infrastructure projects has almost dried up after the IL&FS case last year. All these are forcing an early solution to the NHAI problem as most banks have lent to NHAI.