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Solution to city’s traffic mess caught in red tape

It's a tale of how ordinary citizens are made to suffer the follies of an indecisive bureaucracy. Moushumi Das Gupta reports.
Hindustan Times | By Moushumi Das Gupta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 10, 2012 12:20 AM IST

It's a tale of how ordinary citizens are made to suffer the follies of an indecisive bureaucracy.

Even as uncertainty looms over the fate of Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) project, first approved by Public Private Partnership Approval Committee (PPPAC) in 2007, Delhiites continue to suffer traffic nightmare on city roads.

Once completed, the EPE, along with the Western Peripheral Expressway (WPE), would form a ring road around Delhi and serve as a bypass for non-Delhi traffic that presently passes through the city.

This delay in starting the project has not only resulted in its cost escalating but also in loss of lives in accidents involving heavy and commercial vehicles that pass through Delhi.

More than 2,000 people were killed on city roads last year. Delhi police believe that fatal accidents could come down by at least 30% once the expressway is ready to use.

"We will heave a sigh of relief as about 60%-70% of heavy transport vehicles will not enter Delhi. This would result in a significant drop in fatal road accidents," said Satyendra Garg, joint commissioner of police (traffic), Delhi.

While the Road Ministry has done a volte-face and decided to approach the Cabinet a second time, seeking approval for imposing toll on EPE 1.5 times higher than in other national highways as well as WPE, the finance ministry and a section of Planning Commission are strongly opposed to it.

While BK Chaturvedi, member (infrastructure), and Sudha Pillai, member secretary, have objected the imposition of a higher toll, Gajendra Haldea, advisor to deputy chairman in the plan panel Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has supported it.

In a recent note, Pillai said the EPE has been "horrendously delayed" even though it is "sorely needed". "This project should have been bid out more than six months back," she said in a note in December 2011.

Chaturvedi has questioned the ministry's stand to approach the cabinet again for a project that has already been approved.

"If the PPPAC decisions are to be overturned and matters which are delegated to it are to go to cabinet afresh, we might as well abolish the PPPAC," he said.

Till mid-2011, the road ministry had itself resisted higher toll on the ground that it would provide “undue advantage” to the developers of WPE.

The finance ministry, in its communication to the road ministry, clearly stated that charging higher toll would go against "public interest" and make the project "unviable" vis a vis the WPE.

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