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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Anti-toll campaign: one hurdle tackled, more laps to go

Siddhartha Rai, Hindustan Times  Gurgaon, September 20, 2013
First Published: 01:59 IST(20/9/2013) | Last Updated: 02:06 IST(20/9/2013)

With Union minister for road transport and highways Oscar Fernandes himself working on a solution to ease traffic congestion on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, we think that something has finally been achieved after 50 editions of HT’s “Taking a Toll” campaign and it is time to take the endeavour to the next level.

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As the minister visited the problem areas on the expressway and interacted with the people, the first-hand experience of people’s frustration and ire moved him to announce the proposal for an elevated bridge at Hero Honda Chowk.

“The flyover will cost nearly `100 crore and take 18 months to construct, but it will be a permanent solution that will go a long way in easing the traffic flow on this stretch of National Highway-8. We will also plead with the court for an early resolution to the expressway issue,” Fernandes had told HT after a meeting with Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, as the two met at Transport Bhawan, New Delhi, on Wednesday.

For the people

HT had turned its attention to the expressway after a public outcry over the project that had originally been conceived to catapult Gurgaon to the league of global business cities, but has eventually become a thorn in the side of residents.

HT took up cudgels on behalf of hapless people reeling under inordinate traffic holdups at the Sirhaul and Kherki Daula toll plazas and the lack of basic amenities that cost people their lives.

Through its activism, HT succeeded in lifting the morale of people who had lost all hope for anything to change with the expressway. The people’s movement in Gurgaon against the toll plazas and other issues was reactivated.

“In recent times, HT’s campaign against the expressway problems and the toll plazas is an example for other media houses to emulate. HT’s campaign has empowered us and the extensive coverage that included inside stories like the CAG’s censure of the project has not just informed us but also recharged us to carry on our struggle,” said Attar Singh Sandhu, general secretary of Toll Hatao Sangharsh Samiti, a citizens’ pressure group fighting for the removal of toll.

The issues that were taken up ranged from traffic jams that amounted to lost opportunities and salary cuts for commuters to technical matters like inherent design faults.

HT also traversed the psychological space of the daily victims of the expressway. How the expressway and the toll plazas are not just a physical, but also psychological barriers; how they have led to deteriorating mental health of the people; how efficiencies have dropped and how because of the toll plazas several industrial houses decided to shift from Gurgaon.

Journalistic activism

On its half-a-hundred-long journey, HT tried to leave no stone unturned, no door un-knocked; HT shook up all the trees to thrash out a panacea for a city dying under the pressure of its own traffic. From the chief minister of Haryana to the Union ministry of road transport and highways, from the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to the negligent concessionaire DGSCL, HT barked at all the trees.

The problems were approached surgically for an acute and correct analysis; rather than pontification, people were involved to voice their concerns and responsibilities were fixed unfazed.

HT roped in experts from all walks of life to come up with an informed opinion rather than just conjecture and hollow reportage.

These people of intellect and experience not just showed the way to authentic information and analysis, but also came up with solutions and suggestions that shaped public opinion.

Impact

From otherwise-stolid local, state and national authorities, people started getting response. The joint commissioner of police (traffic) issued public notices to the agencies concerned; the NHAI sloughed off tardiness and took penal action against the concessionaire for having left the expressway to rot.

The agency even took matters in its own hands and ordered re-carpeting of service roads of the expressway, censuring DGSCL and charging the expenses on the company with a 15% surcharge.

A stretch of service road on the Delhi side was completed; the NHAI and the Haryana Urban Development Authority pooled in money for a foot-overbridge (FOB) at Hero Honda Chowk; the two agencies also finalised the construction of an FOB between Signature Tower and Iffco Chowk.

Looking forward

HT has now decided to expand its horizons. Yet again, on popular demand, HT wants to go hyper-local and look at the daily traffic mess that the internal traffic system of the city is in. This is an extension of our enterprise to make a difference to daily living in Gurgaon.

One of our experts Rohit Baluja, president of the Institute of Road Traffic Education, New Delhi, rightly pointed out, “Local authorities of Gurgaon found it easy to go with the development that was triggered with the expressway despite knowing that the national highway was not meant for local traffic and did not develop the internal road and traffic system properly.”

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