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Bengal hits PM’s dream highway below the belt
- Clamour for an underpass too many stalls work on Golden Quadrilateral

Calcutta, Jan. 3: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream Golden Quadrilateral project has hit roadblocks in Bengal, with work stopped at more than 10 places on a 130-km stretch for over a month.

Work on the four-lane highway between Dankuni and Palsit and Palsit and Panagarh has been hit by demands from local residents for more underpasses, which facilitate flow of traffic across the highway.

With stoppage of work, political interference and administrative inaction blocking the project, which has had a smooth ride elsewhere in the country, the National Highway Authority of India has taken up the matter with the highest levels of the state government.

“The original project plan contains provisions for underpasses. But here people are demanding underpasses almost every 200 metres, despite the service roads that are being built along the highways for movement of slow vehicles and pedestrians. To force us to meet their demands, they are stopping work,” said an NHAI official.

NHAI, the main promoters of the project, had passed the detailed plan, including the route, location of toll-collection centres and number and location of underpasses, after seeking approval from the Bengal government.

According to the official, excess underpasses will reduce design speed, planned at 100 km per hour on the highway. Besides, constructing more underpasses will raise project cost significantly.

“The project is being monitored from very senior levels in Delhi and we have already written to our chairman about stoppage of work in these stretches, seeking his involvement,” added the official.

With the December 2004 deadline coming closer, the matter has been taken up with the state government, sources in Writers’ Buildings confirmed. Santosh Nautiyal, the NHAI chairman, is coming to Calcutta in the second week of January to meet chief secretary Asok Gupta.

The Dankuni to Palsit and Palsit to Panagarh stretch of Durgapur Expressway is around 130 km long and has provisions for more than 20 underpasses. But people are demanding 15 to 20 more such underpasses.

Gamuda, a Malaysian construction major, is implementing the Rs 800-crore project on build-operate-and-transfer basis.

“The work stoppage on the project was discussed during a meeting with industries and commerce minister Nirupam Sen last month, where he assured all support to NHAI and the contractors,” said a senior state government official.

But people involved with the project complain that precious little has changed at the ground level. The protests — very often backed by local political leaders — are still on and are stalling work. “It is running behind schedule and if these hiccups aren’t controlled, the project will be delayed further,” the NHAI official said.

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