A goal without a plan is just a wish: the saying fits well in the case of Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway. The ambitious project, which was supposed to breach the barrier between the rural and the urban in Gurgaon, was doomed even before it took off, thanks to lack of planning and farsightedness.
In 2009, a parliamentary committee reviewed the effectiveness of public-private partnership in the execution of the expressway after a performance audit of the project by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
The committee took a stern view of the planning "deficiencies" as "many critical items which should have been foreseen at the time of preparation of the detailed project report were omitted".
"The expressway suffers from several macro-level planning flaws. The worst part is it was not foreseen that the road would be used by the Gurgaon traffic itself. Also, no thought was given about linking the two sides of the expressway in such a way that the main highway traffic was not disturbed. Congestions develop as local traffic gets mingled with highway traffic," said Rohit Baluja, president of Institute of Road Traffic Education and director of College of Traffic Management.
These critical items of public interest were later covered under a changed scope of work order that amounted to nearly Rs 150crore or 21% cost overruns. These neglected items included increasing the height of underpasses by two metres, construction of elevated stretches and additional underpasses, and pedestrian crossing facilities at appropriate places, among other things.
These items were the ones that became the kernel of a public movement in Gurgaon. Moreover, the parliamentary committee found the arguments extended by the ministry of road transport and highways as "nothing but lame excuses".
"You cannot take any such report (CAG performance audit, 2008) as the final word. There is no inherent design or planning flaw with the expressway. Nobody could foresee the quantum of development in Gurgaon and thus could not anticipate this level of traffic. The main problem with the expressway is that of operation and efficiency. There can be many measures which can be taken by the concessionaire to correct things," said RP Indoria, former director general (roads) and ex-special secretary, ministry of road transport and highways. Expressway concessionaire DGSCL, however, declined to comment on the issue.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had tried to argue before the committee that these changes had to be made in the light of unanticipated exponential growth in the areas around the highway.
The parliamentary committee made short work of these "excuses". It harked back to the original traffic survey conducted by engineering consultancy company RITES in 2000 and marked that the development in the area referred to by the NHAI was not an expectation-defying explosion — the actual traffic volume in 2009 had been less than that projected by RITES.
"This negates the claim of the government of sudden rapid development in the areas around the expressway," the committee had observed, adding, "Lamentably, these deficiencies have cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 146crore that had to be paid by the government." The parliamentary committee finally observed that the NHAI had tried to "camouflage" the "serious deficiencies" in the project, its "lack of professional competence" and "defective system of assessment" in the name of changes at the insistence of the Delhi and Haryana governments.