Six years and counting, highway project in Uttar Pradesh stuck in slow lane
At the heart of the delay are problems in acquiring land and reams of red tape in the several district administrations through which they highway cutsindia Updated: Nov 13, 2017 14:12 IST
It’s a project stuck in the slow lane despite being crucial for a National Highway. Six years in the making, the widening of the National Highway 24 between Lucknow and Bareilly, which would have opened doors for development in the region, is unlikely to be completed before June.
At the heart of the delay are problems in acquiring land and reams of red tape in the several district administrations through which they highway cuts. In some cases, officials took decisions that made matters worse.
The situation is such that a Google Maps search for a journey between Bareilly and Lucknow suggests a route that is 30 kilometres longer, showing it to be 36 minutes faster than the NH24. In reality, the NH24 can get slower by over an hour at times.
“Is sadak pe samay or paisa dono zyada lagta hai uske saath jaan ka khatra alag se hai (This road, NH24, takes more time and money. It is dangerous as well),” said Hatinder Pal, a driver of one of the few buses that ply on the stretch.
Haphazard construction work poses a grave risk to drivers.
The project, under the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), was meant to turn the 150-kilometre stretch between Bareilly and Sitapur into a four-lane road. It began in March 2011, a year before the 2012 assembly elections in UP, after a push by the then Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government. The BSP later included it in its list of achievements.
According to official papers seen by Hindustan Times, the work was supposed to have been completed within 910 days (30 months) on August 26, 2013. In reality, ‘no actual construction started’ till August 2013.
Though the delay was overlooked by the new Samajwadi Party establishment that came to power in 2012, banks funding the project grew wary of it. Concerned about their return, they even froze the account in which funds were allocated, forcing the NHAI to do a revaluation in 2014.
“The bank later released funds only after reassurance from NHAI and a major overhaul in the team managing the project of Bareilly Highway Project Limited (BHPL), the construction firm which was awarded the contract,” said Mukesh Sharma, the project manager from NHAI.
The delay also led to an increase in the project cost, which almost tripled from an estimated Rs 1,046 crore in 2011 to Rs 2,800 crore. The cost will be recovered from the public through tolls.
“The actual work started after revaluation of the project in 2014,” said Sanjay Tomar, the project incharge of BHPL, adding the company didn’t have enough place to work on.
“Land required for construction was covered with forest or farms, which were to be made available by NHAI, but the availability of land was delayed,” Tomar said.
The NHAI blamed local administration of the districts through which the highway passes. The administrations of Bareilly, Shahjahanpur, Hardoi, Lakhimpur and Sitapur quoted several issues.
The issues included delays in procuring land, providing compensation and resettlement.
The construction company claimed it was provided less than 40% of the cleared land till late 2014. The clearing of land was delayed partly because the time required to mutate (transfer) the land ownership for construction and partly because of “excess involvement of local bureaucracy.”
The Bareilly district administration, for instance, held three peace meetings to shift a temple from a private property despite having the approval from the owner.
In Shahjahanpur, the administration took two years to remove a mazar and a temple that were encroaching on an important section of the route.
Curse for local economy
The delay increased paperwork and led to a long period of inconvenience. In absence of a uniform stretch for construction, the BHPL deployed machinery at several places along the 150-km stretch and started work on smaller available sections. This resulted in long traffic jams. Over the years, traffic was diverted to other routes.
This meant lower footfalls for businesses along the stretch, many of which packed up.
According to BHPL’s estimates, more than 200 eateries, 150 jaggery plants, 15 major markets and several small production units that lined the highway were uprooted in the last five years. Some were moved to clear encroachment. Others left due to lack of business.
The infrastructure boom, which was at its peak till 2015, disappeared.
“I planned to open a school near Shahjahanpur but dropped the idea after there was no improvement in the road,” said Jagtar Singh, a Sikh farmer in Uchaulia, Shahjahanpur, who has now invested his compensation money in Bareilly.
A year more
Once the land was cleared for construction, work on it accelerated from the end of 2014. At present, 77% work on the route has been done. “The completed regions are in different sections which are being connected now,” Tomar said.
Yet the pace of work on underpasses and rail over bridges (ROBs) is still a worry. The section has eight major bridges and four ROBs. Work on them is far behind the schedule.
Both NHAI and BHPL officials assert the project will be completed by June 2018, the revised deadline.
“The company has expanded operations into six sections from four sections to ensure better management of the project to ensure timely completion,” claimed Sharma.