Souvik Ghosh Published : 10 February 2018

You must have recently noticed some unfamiliar numbers while driving along the National Highways in India. The numbers actually refer to route marker signs and can also be found on Google Maps, indicating the National Highway numbers. Strangely enough, the highway numbers that you have known for so long, do not match. Puzzled? Fret not! For your information, the National Highway numbers have been revised, rendering new numbers to all the National Highways in India

On April 28, 2010, the Road Transport Ministry, Government of India, had officially published the new numbers of the National Highways. In the government notification, numbered NH 14019/9/2007/P&M, Poornima Rajendran, the under secretary to the Government of India, pointed out that “the existing number of the National Highways does not give any indication of its location or direction. Therefore, the Ministry has adopted a systematic numbering of National Highways vide above said notification”. The change has been so subtle that even after eight years of its adoption, the Indian motorists are still not aware of the new numbering system. 

Highways Foreword 

The Indian Roads Congress (IRC), a semi-official body set up by the British government in 1934 on the basis of the Jayakar Committee’s recommendations of 1927, and registered as a society in 1937, decides on the requirements for roads, with regard to its geography, volume of traffic, speed and safety factors. The IRC is the apex body of road engineers in the country and regularly updates the technical requirements such as width, sight, distance and other related parameters for highways and other roads. With rapid increase in the volume of road traffic during World War II, the British government convened a conference of engineers in Nagpur in 1943 to strategise on Indian roads. The conference produced the Nagpur Plan, which divided Indian roads into four main categories - National Highways, State Highways, District Roads and Village Roads depending on its importance and major connects. Later, Expressways were added as an additional category. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), an autonomous agency of the Government of India was formed, responsible for management of majority of National Highways. It was created through the promulgation of the National Highways Authority of India Act, 1988. In February 1995, NHAI was formally made an autonomous body. The authority is responsible for the development, maintenance and management of National Highways in India. 

Road Classification 

Under the Nagpur Plan of 1943, roads were classified as follows: ? National Highways (NH) connect major ports, state capitals, strategic movements, large industrial and tourist centres and highways abroad. ? State Highways (SH), are arterial roads of a state that connect to National Highways, district headquarters and important cities. These are also linked to district roads. ? Major District Roads (MDR) are earmarked as roads that connect areas of production, main markets and the State and National Highways crossing the state. ? Village Roads connect the nearby villages or the nearest District Roads. ? Expressways are the highest class of roads in the Indian road network. They are generally six-lane or eight-lane highways with controlled access i.e., the entrance and exit to these Expressways are controlled by the use of slip roads. ? Asian Highways (AH) are part of the cooperative project within the Asian countries. In India, Asian Highways are no new highways but are earmarked stretches that are commonly represented by the National Highways. However, there are separate Asian Highway (AH) numbers assigned to each AH stretch on National Highways. 

Introduction of National Highway Numbering System 

The National Highways came to be numbered post-independence with the enactment of National Highways Act of 1956. Each National Highway was given a number by the Act. The National Highways continued with the said numbers till 2010. 

Revision of National Highway Numbers 

On April 28, 2010, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, with its official publication of the new numbering system for the national highway network in the Gazette of the Government of India, changed the earlier numbers. The new National Highway numbers are based on the direction and geographic location of the highway.

New NH Numbering System 

1. All north-south oriented highways now have ‘even’ numbers. The numbers increase from east to west. For example: 2, 4, 16, etc. Thus, a particular north-south moving highway in central India or western India will have a higher number than the one in eastern India. Hence, NH-4 is somewhere in eastern India, NH-48 is in central India and NH-68 is in western India while they all run in the north-south direction being even numbers.

2. All east-west oriented highways have ‘odd’ numbers. The numbers increase from north to south. For example: 1, 3, 15 etc. By this logic, NH-3 will be running east to west somewhere in north India while NH-45 in central India and NH-85 down south.

3. All major National Highways are assigned a single digit or double digit number (between 1 and 99). This is the primary number of a National Highway.

4. Highways denoted by three-digit numbers are secondary routes or subsidiary highways, branching out of a primary highway. A secondary route number is put before the primary number of a highway. For instance, 1 is put before 44 to make 144, 2 is put before 44 to make 244 etc. Similarly, 10 is put before 2 to make 102, 20 is put before 2 to make 202. Thus, NH 144 and NH 244 are branches of NH-44 whereas NH-102 and NH-202 are branches of NH-2.

Moreover, if the first digit of a 3-digit secondary highway is odd (e.g. 1 of NH-144), then it runs from east to west direction and if the first digit is even (e.g. 2 of 244), then it runs from north to south, following the main numbering principle. These mean that highways numbered NH-244 and NH-844 are subsidiary highways of NH-44 and both run north to south, while NH-144 and NH-744 are those that run from east to west direction. As per the convention, NH-144 or NH-244 may be side shoots in upper India while NH-844 or NH-944 may be down south, branching out of the main NH-44.

5. Offshoots of secondary highways are denoted by suffixes A, B, C or D in the 3-digit number system. Highways with suffixes indicate very small spin-offs or stretches of a highway. For instance 104A, 104B are small spin offs of primary NH-4 and secondary NH-104. Similarly, 244A, 244B, 244C are shoot outs of primary NH-44 and secondary NH-244.

6. National Highways moving in the same direction have been joined, realigned and extended with new numbers.

Major National Highway Numbers in West Bengal 

With the revision in the numbering system, NH-34 in West Bengal has been renumbered to NH-12. Earlier, the highway used to connect Dalkhola in north (Uttar Dinajpur) to Kolkata in south. With the revised numbering system, NH-12 (old NH-34) has been joined with old NH-117 and extended further south to Bakkhali. Thus, NH-12 now connects Dalkhola to Bakkahli via Kolkata and Kakdwip.

The old number of NH-117 has been incidentally omitted. Similarly, old NH-6 (Bombay Road) has been renumbered to NH-16. It has been realigned and now extends from Kolkata to Chennai. Presently it joins with old NH-60 at Kharagpur, old NH-5 at Baleshwar, and passes through Bhubaneshwar, Vishakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Guntur, Nellore and terminates at Chennai. Similarly, the old number of NH-2 has been revised to NH-19. However, it continues to connect Delhi to Kolkata via Mathura, Agra, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Aurangabad, Barhi, Asansol, and Palsit. 

Changes required 

The highway users should be made aware of the new numbering system in the country to avoid confusion with the earlier numbering system. Although eight years have passed, our National Highways still carry the old numbers and have not yet been replaced by the new numbers. At few stretches, there are boards with old numbers and the new numbers along with the Asian Highway numbers, confusing the road users. It is time, the authorities should take a call on rectification of the National Highway route marking sign boards. Luckily, Google Maps and most of the GPS systems show the new National Highway numbers and puts an end to the confusion.

Way to go 

In India, the years 1956 and 2010 have been significant since in both these years, new numbers of National Highways were introduced. With further development of the road network, the highway numbers are bound to cross 99, which will once again conflict with the revised 3-digit numbering system. Hopefully, as part of this transition, the government will come up with innovative ideas in the near future, to address conflicts in the current numbering system. So worry not and drive on! 

FIND MORE Cover Story

Subscribe for full access to all stories