NHAI and My Dream ‘Bharat Tirthayatra’

I liked to travel by road. I continued to use my car for driving up to my hometown Sasaram once a year from Calcutta where I worked. Once I met with an accident in which the whole family was involved. Though we escaped clearly by providence will, I discontinued those ventures by road. However, I still love to travel by road; railway is the next best, but air travel is certainly not my choicest preference.

Since the day Atal Bihar Bajpai announced his dream GQ project, I am excited and wish to cover the GQ once. Last year, I was so happy to see the great coverage of the project both in ‘The New York Times’ and ‘Fortune’.

NHAI had a good website with maps, details of the sectors, kms, builder as well as the estimated month/year of completion. I used to visit it to find how far it had gone. After reading about the present PM’s emphasis on infrastructure recently, I thought NHAI would have improved the content of the site too. But I find only one change, perhaps on the direction of the great boss, the transport minister Balu, the column of estimated month/year of completion has disappeared. Perhaps it was embarrassing for him. And even today the GQ that had a target of December 2003, changed to 2004 and then to 2005 for completion, appears to be under implementation as per the chainage chart without any further promise date for completion. That pained me.

As mentioned in a recent feature on national highways in ‘India Today’, Balu might not agree, however, ‘the NHDP has slowed down since the change of guard at the Centre in 2004. More than half of the GQ and close to three-fourth of the NSEW corridors that stand completed today were built under the NDA.’ 418 km of the 5,800 km GQ still remain incomplete after three years of its deadline. 840 km (11.5%) of the 7,300km NSEW is ready after three years after launch.

I and many like me, don’t bother what NDA or UPA did. Honourable minister Balu may keep on taking credit of expediting the work on road. India is to go miles before the two phases of this dream project still come in use as it was planned. It’s a shame. The project kicked off in 2000. Six year down the lane, a country like India can’t complete a project of consensually agreed project of national importance for building some 16,000 km of roads that can change the face of India. The reasons and excuses might be many but nothing has been insurmountable if there would have been the will among our politicians and bureaucrats to do it. How do METRO projects get completed before time? It looks laughable when, after this dismal a performance, instead of solving the root causes of the delay, the Prime Minister keeps on announcing projects after projects, phases after phase for the road building. Phase III is for four-lane highways connecting state capitals with tourists and economic centers; V for six-laning of GQ; VI for Expressways such as Mumbai- Vadodara and Delhi-Agra. Surprisingly, one Expressway from Noida to Agra was already in construction. But with the fall of Mayawati, it got shelved. Every one knows what could have been the reasons.

UPA’s additions of 38,600km will cost Rs 2,20,00 crore. As I understand with the cess and so many agencies to assist, the finance will create bottleneck. But will it be there to see it completion? Will the babus of NHAI carry out the plans or come out with only excuses? Will the bureaucrats of the region through which the road passes take care of the bottlenecks, be it a case of law and order, or acquisition-related legal battles? Don’t they know the benchmark figures of the speed of road construction in developed and developing countries that they visit so often on every little pretext?

How can’t the well known facts on its advantages on and during execution make the executives tick? Is it not a shame that commercial vehicles in India cover an average of 250-400 km a day against the standard of 600-800 km a day even on all Asian highways? After all, every km of highway construction provides employment to 40 persons every day. Reduction in travel time for commercial vehicles reduces inventory cost.and affects overall competitivenes of our manufacturing sector. It also means saving on fuel costs, and maintenance.

I am worried if my dream of covering India by the GQ and NSEW would get fulfilled. I know many of my dream destinations such Dwarka, Ajanta-Ellora, Hampi, Bijapur, or Sanchi will not be on the GQ and NSEW, but still whatsoever would be approachable will be good enough to quench my thirst as eternal traveler.

PS: Progress- Kolkata- New Delhi, New Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai- Chennai, Chennai-Kolkata
News:
National Highway crawls, contracts stuck as Ministries play blame game
Highway crawl
New path or alleyway

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