The 256-km-long, Rs.3,200- crore NH-34 project to connect Behrampore in Murshidabad with Dalkhola in North Dinajpur district may soon be a lost cause, as Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), entrusted with building the road, has threatened to pull out of the project if the government fails to gather land needed for the project.
Initiated in 2009, this project is part of a bigger R5,000crore expansion work — to connect Barasat with Dalkhola spanning 432 km — that had proposed to turn the existing structure into a four-lane road. HCC has already pulled off its machineries from the site.
HCC made its intentions clear in a letter to National Highways Authority of India on Thursday. The state government acquires land for national highways on behalf of the NHAI. Ajay Ahluwalia, chief general manager of NHAI in West Bengal, confirmed receiving the letter.
In June 2010, the NHAI awarded the tender to HCC, but the project could not take off due to unavailability of land. A total of 600 hectares needs to be acquired for the 256 km route, but till date only 0.18 hectares could be acquired.
HCC has 20% stake in the project and it had already assembled machineries required for the purpose of widening the road while 40% of the stakes lay with each the NHAI and a consortium of banks that are funding the project.
The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal is not against forcible acquisition of agriculture land, as it was promised in their election manifesto. While the existing law for acquiring land, the Land Acquisition Act 1894, allows governments to acquire land on public purpose without consent from the owners. However, Trinamool Congress is a strong critic of the law and is against using it.
This resulted in a number of projects being stalled including the much-touted parallel highway to NH 34 from Barasat to Raichak. This also forced Infosys and Wipro to deliberate their stay in the state after the government cited land acquisition problems for their projects at Rajarhat.
Farmers in many areas along the entire 432-km stretch do not wish to part with their land, as they demand higher compensation. There are also problems of encroachments on government land at Amdanga area in North 24-Parganas and in some places of Nadia and Dalkhola.
HCC could never start work on a contiguous route along NH-34 after taking over the project. It could only complete patches of 50-100 metres work along the entire stretch. In the Barasat-Behrampore route, out of a total of 305 hectares land required, the state government could not procure a fraction of it.