Senior IAS officer Raghav Chandra took over as the chairman of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in August last year. HT Estates met up with him in his office to get an update on the Dwarka Expressway and its connectivity to Delhi.
Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari had accorded the National Highway status to the Dwarka Expressway in March this year. Has the National Highway Authority of India received a formal communication to that effect?
No, NHAI has not yet received a formal communication. We recently discussed the Dwarka Expressway issue with several citizen groups and stakeholders, including at the government level, ie with the Delhi Development Authority. We had a discussion on several issues, one of them was the Dwarka Expressway. As you are aware the Dwarka Expressway was taken up by the Haryana government and has only been seen as a one-part connectivity from NH8 to Dwarka that will decongest that portion sectorally. It was never seen as a comprehensive solution for decongesting either NH8 or the entire Gurgaon Delhi border area or providing useful connectivity to the development that has come up in the area. Ideally it should have been planned at that time in conjunction with DDA and should have been a comprehensive bypass to Gurgaon but it has not been planned that way. So, I would say that historically there has been a planning lacunae.
What are the challenges ahead?
Declaring Dwarka Expressway as a national highway does not resolve the problem because it must connect one national highway to another, it must lead some where. As such it will only remain a spur to NH8.
However, to take it to its logical conclusion, I feel, as and when the order comes in, we will have to look at it more comprehensively and to ideally connect NH8 from Khirki Duala to the existing Dwarka Expressway as it exists and to connect it to NH8 near Shivmurti.
So that would make it useful as a decongestion effort and not as palliative cure for an incomplete project. My effort, therefore, once the approval and the formal notification comes in, will be to get a complete study undertaken of the exact alignment that needs to be delineated. To get it on the ground, it will take three or four months, for consideration the alignment issues keeping in view the very heavy habitation in that area and the need for land acquisition. We will also have to see how it can best be economised so that level of displacement to existing plot holders and farm holders is not there.
There would be I am sure some vociferous people who would be expecting very exorbitant compensation. We will also have to look at how the existing metro and elevated corridors are suitably taken aboard and we are able to carve out the correct alignment which is economical, efficient and cost effective and which causes the least disturbance to the existing residents by giving them maximum comfort.
This has to be looked at comprehensively, holistically, and once we have that plan in readiness, then we will start bidding it out and executing it.
What expenditure will be incurred in the process?
My understanding is that here the expenditure will be largely on land acquisition for remaining parts and it’s likely to be more expensive than civil construction work.But that is a preliminary estimate. And keeping in view the fact that it is important for the country, we will certainly not compromise on the specifications or the features or structures even if it needs extra money and even if we have to go to the government for extra funds.
By when are you expecting the notification?
Within two to three to months perhaps. I am expecting the notification any day. I have not got anything in writing. I have received a letter from the DDA talking of the specific alignment that they have in mind. DDA has given us a broad letter conveying the alignment etc. Now it is up to the ministry to issue a formal notification which we are awaiting.
As and when it happens, the ball will start rolling. It will take another three to four months to get the specifications, the project report through and another four or five months to bid it out, getting a contractor to do the work etc.
The target to complete the project has been set at June 2017. Is it achievable?
Unless I see the notification, I cannot say. I am looking at us as an agency that will deliver this important project. I had a delegation of citizens from the area coming and meeting me recently. I feel there is a general pain point there and it needs to be resolved and as and when the formal notification is received, we will take it up from there.
Did you discuss with DDA the 1.5 km stretch on the Delhi side which is in private hands? Is it a big bottleneck?
We discussed various roads in Delhi, this was one of them. DDA had initially conveyed one alignment but subsequently said that that was an oversight and they mentioned another which also seems fine. That had to do with the UER 1 and UER 2. They said UER1 may not work and that UER2 is more appropriate. We will factor all that in and get going on it.
Ultimately under the NH Act we will have to acquire (land) and I do not see why anybody should refuse provided we are giving suitable compensation. But compensation here will be very high, so I don’t want to proceed unless I get the notification because the government will have to bear the expense of both the land and the work. I don’t want to raise expectations and initiate work without proper commitment or support from the government.
Much of the work on the Dwarka Expressway has been completed. So, what will be the role of NHAI, once it receives the notification?
Being declared a national highway means that the National Highways Act is applicable on that stretch. Any road under the National Highways Act can be declared as national highway under the NH Act. What it means is that it will be subject to the highway administration as designated by the Central government and subject to the laws and rules of the Central government.That means if the Central government wants to toll it, it will be tolled. It also means that the management of the highway will be taken over by the Central government. There is a parallel access and control act whereby you can remove encroachments and regulate the traffic on the highway. So, basically the operations, the development and management of highway will vest with the government of India. The government of India in turn in will ask NHAI to manage it. We will then have one of our officers in charge of the highway. Once its complete we might decide to toll it and maintain it. Any upkeep will also be vested on us.
NHAI has been called in because of the pain points involved. There is a railway overbridge that has not been completed and the Delhi stretch has not yet been built.
Some stretches are missing. The link between Dwarka Expressway where it ends in Gurgaon to Shiv Murti where it ends in Delhi, does not exist. That is a new thing we will be doing and within the Dwarka Expressway patches that have been left out will be completed. We will also have to remove encroachments and ensure that there is a proper road. The emergency clause can be evoked both for removal of encroachments and acquisition of land.
This is not going to be an easy project because of land acquisition and I understand there are vested interests that have been historically opposing the development of this road but ultimately it will be the will of citizens that must prevail.