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Friday, August 12, 2022

Timeliness in government contracting: Evidence from the country's largest metro-rail network

by Anirudh Burman and Pavithra Manivannan.


Infrastructure projects in India are plagued by delays (MOSPI, 2022). Proposed explanations include failures of government contracting for public procurement (Singh, 2010, Sinha and Vatsa, 2021, etc.). In this article, we measure delays in the procurement process of the largest metro-rail network in the country -- the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) -- which is considered a successful project. It fares well on global ranks on some parameters such as network length and ridership. The early phases of this metro rail project have been lauded for timeliness in execution and contract payments (Expenditure Management Commission, 2016).

We look at two distinct datasets to obtain a birds eye view and a procurement-oriented view of the delays in DMRC. We find that DMRC is prompt in stages of the contracting processes for which we are able to find evidence, but that the overall project implementation suffers from time overruns. We put this knowledge together to obtain insights into government contracting.

Our approach

As with contracts drawn between any two counterparties, government contracting is a pipeline that runs through four phases (Mehta and Thomas, 2022): (I) Contract specification and design, (II) Contract tendering and award, (III) Contract management and (IV) Contract closure. Flaws in government contracting shows up as inefficiencies in public procurement such as delays in infrastructure projects, which in turn, results in cost overruns, loss in revenues, vendor dissatisfaction and lack of competition when government wants to procure, and ultimately, deprives the public of the intended benefits.

We use three data-sets to understand the timeliness of government contracting in DMRC projects.

  1. A data-set of the time taken by the various DMRC projects, sourced from the CapEx database published by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
  2. A data-set of tenders awarded by DMRC, hand-constructed from the 'Contracts Awarded' section of the DMRC website;
  3. A data-set of payments made by DMRC, hand-constructed from the 'Vendor Payment Details' section of the DMRC website and from an RTI application.

The first data is sourced from the CMIE CapEx database. The CapEx database records the date of significant events for each project. We collect data for the three operational metro networks constructed by DMRC, that is, Phase 1, 2 and 3. This data-set consists of project level information such as, the date of announcement of the project, initial completion date, actual completion date and time overruns.

The second dataset is a hand-constructed data-set consists of tender level information for awarded contracts of DMRC, such as the department calling for tenders, nature of work, date of publication of Notice Inviting Tender (NIT), date of issue of letter of acceptance and value of the contract. This data-set covers this information for 892 tenders for a period of 5 years (2016-2020). DMRC categorises these tenders into 7 heads: Civil and Architecture Works, Electrical Works, Operations and Maintenance, Rolling Stock, Track Works, Signalling and Telecom and Property Development.

In addition, we categorise the contracts for IT services and housekeeping works as 'Miscellaneous' and the procurement done by DMRC for other metros in the country as 'For Other Metros'. The highest number of contracts were awarded for Operation and Maintenance works (623) and the least for Rolling Stock (2). Table 1 shows the typology of procurement undertaken by DMRC during our study period.

Table 1: Typology of DMRC Procurement
Category 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Civil and Architecture Works 17 28 9 15 9 78
Electrical Works 5 1 3 5 13 27
Operations and Maintenance 0 65 167 200 191 623
Rolling Stock 0 0 0 2 0 2
Track Works 12 2 0 1 3 18
Signalling and Telecom 8 1 0 0 3 12
Property Development 0 5 3 10 5 23
Miscellaneous 4 14 23 8 13 62
For other metros 5 7 17 8 10 47

Our second hand-constructed data-set consists of monthly bill payment status of DMRC. Pursuant to government communication (vide D.O.18(18)/IFD/2019 dated 05.11.2019), DMRC uploads its monthly vendor payment details on its website since December 2019. This data gives us periodic information about the bill submission date and the bill payment date of DMRC vendors. Since the website does not archive its data we obtained our data partly from the DMRC website and partly vide an RTI application made for this purpose. Our data-set consists of 20,654 bills for the period between November 2019 to August 2021. The payment period is unknown for about 1,550 bills in our data-set, which we discard in our analysis.

We restrict our study to benchmark DMRC's performance against the timelines prescribed by its internal guidelines (DMRC Procurement Manual, 2016 and General Conditions of Contract, 2019) and the Central Government procurement guidelines (General Financial Rules, 2017 and the Manual for Procurement of Works, 2019). We do not employ a comparative analysis with other procuring entities for two reasons: One, availability of data in government portals such as the CPPP (Central Public Procurement Portal) and websites of the procuring entities are often sparse and sporadic. Second, a deeper understanding of the fundamental functioning, internal rules, processes and organisational structure of each entity is required for a meaningful comparison and it warrants a separate study.

Findings: Time overrun in DMRC project implementation

In the CapEx data, we are able to see that, between 1995 to 2021, there were three projects announced, implemented and completed by DMRC. These are the Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 lines. These have been operational from 2006, 2011 and 2021 respectively. From this data, we are able to locate various timelines for all three phases, including the date on which the Phase was announced, to the date on which they were completed and commissioned for public use for fully operational metro lines. We calculate the time overruns as the difference between the date projected initially as the completion date for a Phase and the date on which it was actually completed and operationalised. These are presented as project delays in Table 2.

Table 2: Project delays (in months)
Phase 1 15
Phase 2 32
Phase 3 102
Source: CMIE Capex Database

Findings: Timeliness in contract award by DMRC

High-income countries, countries with greater political accountability, and countries with greater economic freedom process public works procurement in a more timely manner (Djankov and Bosio, 2020). Each of these countries does infrastructure procurement following its own regulations to award contracts. In India, works procurement is guided by the Manual for Procurement of Works, 2019. According to Clause 5.6 in this manual, the time taken by Ministries and Departments from the date of opening the tender to the date of awarding of contract is 90 days.

We estimate the actual time taken by DMRC to award tenders (Table 3). This is calculated as the time taken from the date of opening of the tender to the date of issuing of the acceptance letter. We find that, on an average, DMRC takes 91-92 days to complete the tendering process.

Table 3: Time taken to award tenders (in days)
Year No. of tenders Average time taken
2016 51 101
2017 123 98
2018 222 103
2019 249 81
2020 247 89
Average 178 92

Findings: Timeliness in making vendor payments by DMRC

Payment delays are endemic in public contracts in India. DMRC has sought to avoid payment delays by including provisions for both interim and final payments within its Procurement Manual and General Conditions of Contract, 2019 (GCC). Depending on the type of contract, payments may be made at different stages of the procurement cycle. At Clause 11, the GCC provides for set timelines for the scrutiny of invoices and payments to be made by the procuring entity:

  • Interim payments: A contracting firm may apply to the respective project engineer of DMRC requesting for an 'interim payment certificate'. This certificate will be issued based on achieved milestones or prescribed payment schedule in the contract, if any.
    1. Within 21 days of the request, the project engineer must issue the interim payment certificate specifying the amount due to the contractor.
    2. DMRC is mandated to make 80% of the certified payment amount within 7 days of issue of the certificate.
    3. The balance 20% is to be made within 28 days of issue of the certificate.
  • Final payments: Once the project engineer certifies that the contractor has completed all his obligations related to a particular work, the contractor is entitled to apply for a 'final payment certificate' with the required supporting documents.
    1. Within 28 days of receiving this request, the project engineer must issue the final payment certificate stating the final amount due.
    2. DMRC is mandated to pay the amount certified in the final payment certificate within 56 days of issue of this certificate.

We look at the vendor payments data-set of DMRC to analyse the adherence to these timelines. We find that, on an average, DMRC takes about 4 days to clear its dues from the date of submission of the bill by the vendors (Table 4). For the data-set in our study, the maximum days taken by DMRC to make its payment is about a year.

Table 4: Time period for clearance of dues (in days)
Year No. of bills Average time Median time Minimum time
2019 1326 5 2 0
2020 9887 4 3 0
2021 7891 4 4 0
Total 19104 4 3 0

Payment delays by public sector enterprises in India to their vendors far exceeds their procurement values (Manivannan and Zaveri, 2021). We find that DMRC is an outlier in terms of maintaining payment discipline to its vendors, and in adhering to the timelines provided in its GCC.


The public discourse on government infrastructure procurement focuses on delays and time overruns being an indicator of poor government contracting. In this article, we have analysed the capability of a procurement-intensive public sector enterprise to keep up with its timelines in two stages, that is, in contract award and payments. We find that DMRC takes about 3 months to award a contract, and about 4 days to clear its payment dues to vendors. Regardless of this exemplary performance on awarding contracts and paying vendor dues, we also find that the overall project implementation by DMRC failed to meet scheduled timelines to complete. All three phases took a longer time than originally expected. In fact, we observe that the overall project time delays increased from the Phase 1 project to the Phase 3 project.

Executing infrastructure projects on time has been a continuous concern and challenge in India. Our analysis about DMRC timeliness in awarding contracts and in making payments provides evidence against the popular perception that public projects are delayed due to delays in decision-making by the public authorities and their inability to make timely payments. Instead, we speculate that these are because of other factors for overall project delays, some of which could be misaligned allocation of scope and risk in procurement contracts and poor contract management. A deeper analysis into each project, procurement practises, financial and institutional structure of DMRC may help in understanding the reasons for its timely performance in certain procurement processes and the potential causes of time overruns. These learnings can then be adopted by other procuring entities to achieve better procurement and project outcomes.


Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation Infrastructure and Project Monitoring Division, 434th Flash Report on Central Sector Projects, January 2022.

Ram Singh, Delays and Cost Overruns in Infrastructure Projects: Extent, Causes and Remedies, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 45, No. 21, May 2010.

PC Sinha and Ananys Vatsa, Delays in Project Completion in India, Indian Journal of Projects, Infrastructure and Energy Law, January 2021.

Erica Bosio and Simeon Djankov, Timely procurement of public works, World Bank Blogs, February 2020.

Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, General Instructions on Procurement and Project Management, October 2021.

Expenditure Management Commission, Recommendations of the Expenditure Management Commission, December 2015.

Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, Manual for Procurement of Works, 2019.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd., General Conditions of Contract, November 2019.

Pavithra Manivannan and Bhargavi Zaveri, How large is the payment delays problem in Indian public procurement?, The Leap Blog, March 2021.

Charmi Mehta and Susan Thomas, Identifying roadblocks in highway contracting: lessons from NHAI litigation , The Leap Blog, July 2022.

Charmi Mehta and Diya Uday, How competitive is bidding in infrastructure public procurement? A study of road and water projects in five Indian states , The Leap Blog, March 2022.

Anirudh Burman is an Associate Research Director and Fellow at Carnegie India. Pavithra Manivannan is a Senior Research Associate at XKDR Forum and Chennai Mathematical Institute. We thank Susan Thomas for valuable comments and discussions.