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Nationwide lockdown hinders NHAI’s plan to monetize $1 billion of toll road assets

The extended lockdown to contain COVID-19 pandemic which has stalled traffic on the ground as in the air is expected to heap enormous losses on infrastructure industries in both sectors, analytics company Crisil said on Thursday.

“Aviation Industry”

Its estimates indicate that the aviation industry will crash-land this fiscal year with a revenue loss of Rs 24,000 crore to 25,000 crores. Airlines will be the worst-affected, contributing more than 70 per cent of the losses of Rs 17,000 crore followed by airport operators with Rs 5,000 crore to 5,500 crore and airport retailers (including retail, food, and beverages and duty-free) with Rs 1,700 crore to 1,800 crores.

That will reverse the trend growth of 11 per cent per annum the industry has logged over the past ten years, making it one among the foremost adversely affected sectors of the economy.

What is worse, the losses will climb if travel restrictions last longer in hubs such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata. The aviation sector will take at least six to eight quarters to reach pre-pandemic levels.

“Toll losses”

Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Director and Practice Leader for Transport and Logistics at Crisil Infrastructure Advisory, said these are preliminary estimates and aggregate losses could increase if the lockdown is extended beyond the primary quarter.

“As and when operations resume, overall operational capacity will hover at 50 to 60 per cent for the rest of the fiscal. Consequently, mergers and acquisitions of airlines, and relook at expansion plans of private and upcoming greenfield airports will be possibilities,” he said.

On its part, the roads and highways sector will see developers and toll operators incurring toll revenue losses of Rs 3,450 crore to 3,700 crores from March to June, the Crisil estimate suggests. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will lose Rs 2,100 crore to 2,200 crores in toll over this period.

In addition, stakeholders will suffer losses on account of accrued interest, increase in costs of under-construction projects, time overruns, and an increase in disputes between the private sector and government authorities.

“Hinders monetizing”

Moreover, the NHAI had planned to raise Rs 80,000 crore to 85,000 crores through fiscal 2025 by monetizing nearly 6,000 km of operational public-funded toll roads. This asset monetization program through toll-operate-transfer and infrastructure investment trusts will likely take a hit.

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