Work delayed further, chaos at Ashram to persist for 3-4 months
The construction of the underpass at the Ashram intersection will miss its December deadline and require at least three to four months more, Public Works Department (PWD) officials involved in the project said, confirming a delay that will prolong the miseries of thousands of commuters who rely on the stretch and residents who live nearby.
Ever since work began in December last year, the area has turned into a nightmare with the road reduced to widths barely wide enough for a bus, forcing people to navigate crumbling, cratered and often flooded roads amid plumes of dust, which also fills into nearby homes.
The work has been on to create a 750-metre underpass on the Mathura Road, which allow traffic under the busy Ashram intersection with the Ring Road.
“After initial hiccups, work resumed in May this year, but it was slow because of a shortage of labour since most migrated to their villages during Covid. Now the pace of construction has again slowed down due to pollution curbs and labour shortage since workers again went back home due to Diwali and for the harvest season,” said a PWD official, asking not to be named.
“At present there are nearly 50-60 labourers at the site. Construction restrictions because of the pollution season have also slowed things down,” said this person.
A senior Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) official said that all construction agencies have been asked to follow required protocols for reducing dust pollution in their area. However, the pollution control agency had not put any restriction on construction work.
Regular commuters of the stretch, however, said that more than the construction activity, it is the poor planning and management of the site that is creating an everyday problem. This stretch is an important link between central and south Delhi with the satellite towns of Noida and Faridabad.
“I have been travelling regularly on this road for more than 10 years now and this has continued to be a commuter’s nightmare from day one. First it was the metro construction, then the closure of the Kalindi Kunj border because of the Shaheen Bagh protest and now this construction. This intersection is an arterial passage and mismanage this area is to bring the city to a standstill,” said Roshan Giri, who said that he had been stuck in the traffic jam on Mathura Road for around 25 minutes.
The Delhi government did not respond despite repeated calls and texts.
Commuters also said that even at peak rush hours in the morning and evening, no traffic police official was stationed to manage congestion. HT visited the spot on Friday, Monday and on Tuesday, at peak and non-peak rush hours, and did not spot any police official.
The traffic police said they regularly deploy personnel as per the need and also issue advisories to commuters on their social media handles.
The PWD said the underpass is being constructed through “cut and cover” method due to space crunch at the site and they have left maximum space on the surface for traffic movement so that there is minimum disruption.
“The construction work of ramps of the underpass is nearing completion. After construction of ramps, we will begin the digging process underneath the Ring Road portion, which will take one-two months to complete because work is winters generally remains slow,” he said.
The Delhi traffic police said that the department was conducting regular review meetings with the PWD to assess the any change in diversion plan. The department said that they have put out the required signage and have stationed traffic policemen to manage traffic here.
“We are putting out regular advisories asking commuters to avoid the stretch, if possible, because of the construction situation there, but ultimately, it is an arterial road and we cannot stop traffic completely,” the traffic police response to HT’s query read.
S Velmurugan, chief scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), said that seeing traffic load on the Mathura Road and the Ring Road, the Ashram underpass is very much required project as it will improve connectivity between south and central Delhi.
“When such important projects get delayed it not only result in traffic snarls but the cost of the project also escalated which may hamper the progress of the project. Authorities should have fast tracked the project to complete it on time so that the public doesn’t have to go though traffic logjams,” he said.
The Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre (UTTIPEC) — the apex body for approving infrastructure projects in the city — had approved the underpass in January 2016, which was to be completed by March 2018 but the project was delayed for want of financial approval. It was given financial nod by the expenditure finance committee (EFC) of the Delhi government in November 2018. On December 24, 2019, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had laid foundation stone of the project with a deadline to complete it by December 2020, which is set to be missed.
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