The Punjab government's claims that work on four-laning of the Ropar-Nawanshahr-Phagwara stretch would start "very soon" were exposed on Tuesday, with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) deciding to only repair the existing road for the next two to three years.
With the killer stretch claiming more than 200 lives this year in road accidents, including former Indian women's hockey captain Shashi Bala, the state government had on Monday issued a statement that the NHAI had floated tenders for starting four-laning and claimed that the project would commence soon.
However, the tenders floated by the NHAI on June 13 are for Rs 20 crore, and that too for the repair of the accident-prone stretch "for the time being".
As per a senior NHAI officer, the agency is of the view that since the execution of four-laning needs major groundwork and it may take two to three years for the work to start, the NHAI has decided to repair the road to make it slightly better for motorists.
A copy of the tender notice, available with HT, reads that the tenders for the "short-term improvement and routine maintenance of Ropar-Nawanshahr-Banga-Phagwara section of National Highway-344A" have been floated for carrying out road marking with reflectors, road delineators, median markers and filling of cracks. June 23 was the last date for applying online for the tenders issued by the regional office of the NHAI chief general manager (technical) at Panchkula.
The press statement issued by the government spokesman on Monday had also claimed that all formalities had been completed and the NHAI was on the verge of initiating work immediately after the tender procedure, adding that deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal had described this project as the "lifeline of Doaba region" with focus on reducing the volume of traffic and number of accidents on this highway.
After this statement, ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders, including Prem Singh Chandumajra, member of Parliament from Anandpur Sahib constituency (which includes Nawanshahr), and Charanjit Brar, OSD (officer on special duty) to the deputy CM, had issued statements thanking the deputy CM for announcing the start of the project and "fulfilling the long-pending demand".
However, the NHAI has left the government red-faced.
"We have floated the tenders to repair this road as the actual start of four-laning may take a long time, with the NHAI in the process of hiring a consultancy to make the project proposals. This is the first step for any project. So, for the time being, we would repair this road for the benefit of motorists," OC Mathur, project director of the project implementation unit wing of the NHAI regional office, Panchkula, told Hindustan Times.
Chandumajra, who held a press conference in Nawanshahr on Tuesday, also announced that the state government would request the NHAI to include the Anandpur Sahib-Banga road as part of a national highway in order to facilitate four-laning of this road.
"The statement issued by the government was a big lie that has been nailed by the NHAI version. What more do you need to prove that this government is befooling the people with tall claims," said Chaudhary Santokh Singh, Congress MP from Jalandhar.