The Samajwadi Party is banking on the 302km Lucknow-Agra expressway to retain power in the 2017 assembly elections but the opposition is not about to let it run away with any advantage.
Built at a cost of Rs 13,000, the expressway hit the headlines on Monday with Indian Air Force fighter planes experimenting with landings and take offs at a 3.3-km stretch in Unnao.
While projecting the development plank of his government, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who had been at the receiving end of a bruising family feud with uncle Shivpal Yadav, plans to consolidate his hold on voters in western and Central UP through which the expressway passes.
It is the longest six-lane expressway in the country and will be expanded to eight lanes later. Constructed in 23 months, the expressway gives the Samajwadi Party government a solid infrastructure to showcase its achievement.
“The construction of the expressway in record time shows the determination of the CM and will help him in fighting the anti- incumbency factor during the assembly polls,” said SK Mishra, a political observer.
The hassle-free acquisition of 3,500 hectare land from 32,000 farmers has helped the SP government project a pro-farmer image, he said.
“A massive agitation by farmers over acquisition of land for the Yamuna expressway led to the BSP’s defeat in the 2012 assembly election,” Mishra added.
But opposition parties have already launched a scathing attack on Akhilesh, calling him a chief minister in a hurry.
BSP chief Mayawati has said, “Instead of focusing on administration, the chief minister is busy inaugurating and laying the foundation stones of projects.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) feels the expressway won’t be the magic bullet Akhilesh is hoping for.
“Rather than the expressway, people will vote on the law and order situation as well as corruption in the state government departments,” BJP state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya said.
Yashvir Tyagi, a professor in the department of economics at Lucknow University, does not agree with the views of the opposition leaders.
“The Agra-Lucknow expressway has definitely refurbished the image of Akhilesh Yadav who was at the receiving end due to a feud in the Yadav family. The opposition leaders have often criticised the chief minister for bowing to the wishes of his father, uncle and other SP leaders, but the expressway certainly projects him as a leader who can deliver. The perception that he is a doer will definitely strengthen his image before the crucial polls,” Tyagi told HT.
“The expressway will definitely give a thrust to the economy particularly the rural hinterland. Farmers as well as traders in Agra, Firozabad, Mainpuri, Etawah, Auraiyya, Kannauj, Kanpur, Unnao, Hardoi and Lucknow will definitely benefit from the quick movement of traffic,” he added.
Potato production in Agra, glass industry in Firozabad, agro-based industries in Mainpuri-Etawah, perfume-making in Kannauj, leather business in Kanpur-Unnao, chikankari cluster and mango production in Lucknow will get a boost once expressway connects the rural hinterland with developing urban centres, said Sudhir Pawar, a senior professor at Lucknow University.
“It takes around 10 hours to transport mango by road from Lucknow to Delhi. Usually, we suffer losses as it is a perishable product. A large quantity of mango is destroyed if the delivery is delayed. Once the Lucknow-Agra expressway is completed, the travel time will be cut down to six hours,” said Mohammad Imran, owner of a mango orchard in Malihabad on the outskirts of Lucknow.
Shyam Kumar, a perfume trader, said, “The expressway will give oxygen to the Kannauj perfume industry. It will not only open a new market but also ensure fast movement of raw material.”
A senior officer of the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) said the government plans to set up four townships, besides industrial units, along the expressway. The UPEIDA also has plans to develop an education hub along the road link.
Agriculture mandis (markets) will be established in Mainpuri and Kannauj. The state government plans to set up information technology investment region (ITIR) and Film City on the expressway.