Worried over the delay in land acquisition for upgrading a crucial highway project that links Howrah and Siliguri, road transport and highways minister CP Joshi has written to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee asking her government to expedite the process.
Work on the road widening project—six-laning 432 km of National Highway-34 from the existing two-lanes—has been held up for about a year now because of the inability of the state government to provide land. The Rs 4,000-crore highway project, once complete, will improve connectivity between Howrah in south Bengal and Siliguri in north Bengal.
“The letter was necessitated as road development projects in the state are moving at a snail’s pace because of the delay in acquiring land,” said a ministry official. There are five sub-projects for the 432-km highway. Of this, 66% land has been acquired in two projects, 22% in another two and less than 26% in one project.
“The delay in starting work has also resulted in poor maintenance of the existing stretch. It is in a bad shape,” said a ministry official.
Road ministry officials said that West Bengal along with Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra have the worst record as far as land acquisition is concerned.
In West Bengal, for instance, of the 1,857-km total land to be acquired, only 121 hectare is under the government’s possession.“The compensation amount to be paid to landowners from whom land has been acquired is a prickly issue,” said an official.
Joshi had earlier written to the chief ministers of Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra over the delay in land acquisition. In Kerala, the delay in acquiring land for widening stretches of highways has resulted in scrapping of the project altogether.
Goa also has an abysmal record. Of the total 442 hectare land to be acquired, so far the authorities have failed to take over even an inch of land under its possession.
Road ministry officials said that nearly 30% of the road/highway projects under the government’s ambitious National Highway Development Programme (NHDP) are running behind schedule on account of a tardy land acquisition process.
A parliamentary standing committee on transport, chaired by Sitaram Yechury, which submitted its report in March, has also come down heavily on the road transport ministry for slow land acquisition process. It said NHAI was not following guidelines in offering compensation to owners for road projects.