With the four-laning project nowhere near the take-off point, the 82-km Ropar-Nawanshahr-Phagwara stretch of the 88-km National Highway 344A continues to claim lives — at the alarming rate of one death per day.
Even as the Punjab government, in a statement issued on Monday, said the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had floated tenders for the roadwidening project, which would have designed bypasses at Nawanshahr and Banga, the NHAI website reveals that these tenders are for hiring a technical consultant to conduct a survey for the stretch.
This private firm would prepare a detailed project report (DPR), after which land acquisition, environmental clearance and the final tendering would start. Experts say the whole process could take at least two years.
The state government had in 2009 hired a Delhi-based consultancy firm, Consulting Engineering Services Pvt Ltd, to carry out a survey to widen this congested two-lane road, termed by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal as “the lifeline of Doaba” as it connects the region with New Delhi. The company even prepared the DPR and submitted it to the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) in July 2013. Environmental clearance was granted by the Centre. However, the project hit a roadblock due to dearth of funds.
“Now, the entire process would be repeated before the final takeover of the project,” said a senior PWD (public works department) functionary.
Sukhbir has on several occasions announced to start the four-laning work. However, as per a senior PWD official, since the state government had no funds for this project, the Akali-BJP government persuaded the Centre to redesignate the state highway as a national highway (344-A) so that the expenditure would be borne by the NHAI.
The road’s formal takeover took place in April this year after Sukhbir met Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari.
When contacted, PWD minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon admitted that the widening of this stretch would be done by the NHAI.
“I cannot say what happened earlier, but the current status is that Gadkari’s department will take the final call on this project. I think they are about to float the tenders. I don’t know exactly,” said Sekhon.
A senior PWD functionary stated that initially, the NHAI was ready to take the 2013 DPR as the basis for the project. “But when the NHAI decided to develop the project on its own, they preferred to start from scratch,” the official added.
During a visit to Bathinda in January, Gadkari had announced to sanction Rs 1,000 crore for the project and set a deadline of December 31 as the take-off date. This deadline is set to be missed.