The DND flyway, which has now been declared toll-free by the Allahabad high court, was originally floated in the 1990s and was hotly debated at the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC). It was the first PPP project in transportation with the governments of Delhi, UP and a private consortium headed by IL&FS, set up specially for this project.
Those were the days when the flyover fever was gripping all major cities of India and the role of the cement cartels was very much part of the living room discussions in South Delhi. Everything from the location, validity of the connection, financing model and road geometry, etc., were discussed. With some very competent government officials leading the consortium, the ‘fly-way’ was opened for the public in 2001.
The finalised design demanded that at the entry point of the DND flyway from the ring road, a grade separation was necessary to facilitate a right turn into the new link. This resulted in a diversion of one of Delhi’s main arterial movements, the ring road, increasing the trip length on the ring road by about 800 metres, with very poor road geometry. Quite a few commuters lost their lives at this junction and some quick fire-fighting measures had to be done to cut down speed and reduce accidents. The continuing net time loss to the commuters of Delhi and the increased pollution still remain unaddressed.
Another serious fallout of this new link was the damage to the river bed. In order to reduce the size of the bridge and its initial cost, the floodplain had to be constrained by creating one-and-a-half kilometre earth embankment on both sides, along the flow of the river. In the bargain, a lot of land along the river bed became ‘urbanisable’, while literally channelising the river by the embankments. The environmental laws in India had not been in serious discourse with the river Yamuna at that time and the project went through with only a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment.
The DND flyway was originally planned with a 15-year recovery period, by one of India’s first public-private consortiums, when car ownership was many times lesser than now. The development of NOIDA into a major employment hub and phenomenal migration into Delhi along with a severely controlled and ineffectively managed employment generation have exponentially increased the movement between the two cities. Original projections for commuter numbers were hugely impacted by the unbridled expansion of the automobile industry. The real beneficiary of this runaway urbanisation has been the promoter of the project and nearly five times bigger recovery through these years is the result of this success story, part by design and part by default.
Commuting comfortably is a citizen’s right. The court has done a signal service with its order to do away with the toll. The government’s job is to ensure that commuting happens through well thought-out and implemented urban design. It is a public service and once legitimate profits are made, the facility must be handed over to the public. If there is excess money, that should be used to mitigate the environmental damage and to improve long term, sustainable movement of people in the National Capital Region. To be a successful PPP model for development, larger common good for the public must be at the end of it.
(KT Ravindran is dean emeritus, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University, Noida)