Aug 3, 2009
That Karnataka is the I T capital of India is well established and well-known. What is not known to most of us is that when it comes to National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) projects it is said that Karnataka is on an equal footing with Bihar, lagging behind in all aspects of implementing NHAI projects. One can but envision the fate of various projects undertaken by NHAI in the state that are moving at a snail’s pace or are stalled midway, having been caught in a whirl pool of controversies. Unfortunately the list includes the much hyped ongoing 37.5 kms stretch four-lane Port Connectivity Project between Surathkal and B C Road, Mangalore. So we need not have a more convincing example to reaffirm Karnataka’s position vis-à-vis other states that would certainly put a question mark on its reputation
This much-touted four-lane high way project is in the news once again and for all the wrong reasons, as has been the case ever since the 4-laning project began. It is the apathy of our elected representatives, our bureaucracy and the ‘it does not bother me’ attitude of the citizens of the district that are prompting National Highway Authority of India to shelve this project any time, Given the present status of the project and the hurdles that have been put on its path, the signals are out and clear. NHAI wants to put an end to its nightmarish experience for the past four years, ever since this ambitious project was begun.
Threat to Quit:
The four-lane road with six one way and one two-way flyover, was considered to be a solution for traffic snarls and other ills that affects traffic on NH’s 13, 17 and 48 passing through the district. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) which is in charge of the project, has finally decided to call it quits and leave the project in “as it is stage” if the state does not extend cooperation in implementing the project. The main grouse of the NHAI is that it is not getting the required co-operation from the state government and the local authorities in completing the project. Despite extending the deadline twice it has failed to make any considerable progress.
The deadlock on the project has arisen mainly because the IRCON International Ltd, the contractors of NHAI, has requested NHAI to relieve them from the project due to the losses they have suffered as a result of delay. “To relieve means we will have to close the project, as IRCON feels there is no chance of the situation improving”, Gawasane says. He further adds, “in any project, we have to take into account the interest of the people. If majority of the people of the district are against the project, there is no way we can go ahead with our work”.
Under this backdrop, Project Director of NHAI P N Gawasane says, “now we have decided to complete the work wherever the land is available, even in patches. We have completed 21 kms of four-lane work out of the 37.5 kms involved in the project. If we find there is nothing to work, we will close the project as it is. We will complete the work by December 2009 but the decision on the closure will be taken within a month or two”.
No Land – No Work
According to Gawasane, the state government has not been able to handover the notified land for the project, despite NHAI’s efforts to get the land required. Underground water and electric cables in Kulur and Nanthoor junction have not been shifted to enable them to undertake the work of the flyovers. “Both the Mangalore City Corporation (MCC) and the MESCOM have not heeded to our requests to shift utilities. With obstacles at every step, we have been doing patch works wherever the land is clear for us to go ahead with the work. In Surathkal where the building is under litigation we have left that portion and gone ahead with our work”, contends Gawasane.
NHAI says, it is the combination of the lethargic attitude of bureaucracy, elected representatives and lack of interest evinced by the people in ensuring that the authorities concerned work in earnestness to get the project completed, serves as the main stumbling block. A document available with daiji shows that the home minister had complained to the government about the slow progress of work on NHAI in the meeting chaired by Chief Minister on 7th July 2008. Though instructions were given to the officials concerned including the district deputy commissioner to speed up the work, no concrete steps have been taken in the past one year.
There were 13 litigation cases that came under the purview of this project out of which 11 are disposed and two are still pending. These petitions include those that blocked the work being undertaken in Nanthoor junction. Of the 11 disposed cases, five have gone for writ appeal, which means the NHAI has not yet been able to acquire the land required to carry on the project smoothly.
MCC & MESCOM – Scapegoats or villains?
If we are made to believe that the ball is in the court of MCC or MESCOM, here is a reality check. Mayor Shankar Bhat, when contacted, categorically denied that MCC was responsible for the delay in shifting the cables. “NHAI has awarded the contract of shifting cables to L & T. Whenever we have been asked to make payments, we have done and so far we have deposited almost 8 crores for this purpose. In fact, it is NHAI which is not taking us into confidence or consulting us. Ever since I have become mayor, I have not been consulted or called for any meetings in this regards. We come to know about all the developments only through the press”, said a furious Shankar Bhat when contacted for his comments. He also pointed out that it is the responsibility of NHAI to get the land records cleared and local authorities cannot get into this aspect of clearing land records.
Shankar Bhat said that the corporation is ready to talk to the NHAI officials because he feels, they cannot put the blame on the City Corporation and get away without completing the project. “We would like to talk to NHAI and settle the issue with regard to our lapses vis-à-vis their inefficiency,” he added.
Executive engineer of MESCOM, who did not want to be named when contacted, puts the blame squarely on NHAI saying “the project is delayed mainly because of land acquisition problem and not due to shifting of underground cables. The work of shifting of cables is entrusted to L & T but they are not able to undertake the work as NHAI has failed to clear the corridor required to shift the cables. If they provide a clear corridor MESCOM is ready to start the work”, says the official.
The MESCOM contends that if NHAI begins the work, then they would get some idea on the work Mescom is to undertake. Giving an example of the languid attitude of NHAI, he Executive Engineer of MESCOM says “the NHAI could at least start the work of shifting the over line cables between Kulshekar and Nanthoor. This work should have been undertaken by NHAI, which they have failed to do. Though estimation is sanctioned to undertake this work, NHAI has failed to execute the work.
The MESCOM official blames the NHAI for the present impasse, saying that though MESCOM had cleared the cables near Kaikamba to enable NHAI to begin the work on the pillars for the flyover a year back, the work has not yet been started.
The MESCOM official also adds that the Rs 1.75 crore deposited to shift the underground cables of master unit sub station in Nanthoor is only a part of the work. The money deposited with the MESCOM is only for one part of the job. The work involving a balance of 4.25 crores has to be executed by the NHAI. NHAI says it has deposited six crore rupees with MESCOM, a charge denied by MESCOM officials. Executive Engineer says only Rs 1.75 crore has been received by the MESCOM so far.
People’s representatives speak
When contacted telephonically, MP Nalin Kumar Kateel, who is in Delhi for the parliament session, said that nothing would happen to the project. “I have raised the issue with regard to the project in the ongoing parliament session. I have even met the NHAI engineers concerned in the regard. Nothing would happen to the project and it would go on. Actually the project has got an extension up to Kundapur”, he stated. He further added “The problem with NHAI is that it is not taking local people and local representatives into confidence, leading to misunderstanding”.
MLA Krishna Palemar is very forthright in his criticism of the functioning of NHAI. “NHAI has never done the work sincerely despite allotting clear land. Let them answer whether they have done the work where the land is clear?” asked an irritated Palemar. Palemar. He said, it is true there are litigations with regard to acquisition of land. “It is the duty of NHAI to get clear records. They cannot blame the representatives or local leaders for their inefficiency”, he pointed out. Palemar said “we will not allow NHAI to run away from its responsibility. They are answerable to the people. It is only a tactic the officials are adopting to conceal their own lacunae”, he said.
Now once again December 2009 is the deadline given to NHAI to finish the work. It may be recalled here that the project which was started in 2005 was to be completed by December 2007. It got extended again in 2008. The project got extension twice, largely due to the issue of litigation with regard to land acquisition. As a result, the cost of the project also has been rising from 196 crores in 2003 to about Rs. 250 crores as on December 2009. While the cost of civil construction is Rs. 168 crores utility shifting payment has come to about Rs. 29 crores which includes land acquisition, support staff salaries, payment to forest department etc,.
NHAI seems to have learnt a bitter lesson out of its experience in Mangalore. Project Director Gawsane says NHAI “would not begin the work if 80 per cent of the land acquisition is not done before the project gets started.
Judging impassively, the project lacks co-ordination at various levels such as the local representatives, bureaucracy, elected representatives and the NHAI officials. Given the track record of NHAI, which has shelved projects earlier citing similar reasons in Tuticorin and Kochi to name a few, such abandoned project hardly gets any bidders and it does not get takers.
It is therefore imperative that the project should go on in the larger interests of the district. Having endured all the hardships in the last four years as a result of the work undertaken by NHAI in a haphazard manner, it cannot just walk out of the project at its own whims and fancies. It is high time NHAI pulls itself together and goes ahead with its work, rather than get itself into the blame game.