The Metro report on October 20, highlighting the chief minister’s bumpy ride on NH34
If a rattler of a ride made her sit up, a letter from Delhi has laid the road for Mamata Banerjee to ease her hands-off policy on land acquisition to save the crater-riddled NH34.
The state government recently formed a committee to “facilitate” acquisition of 40.19 hectares to widen the national highway, as suggested by the Union minister for road transport and highways in a letter to Mamata.
Minister C.P. Joshi’s letter apparently mentions an allotment of Rs 50 crore for the repair and maintenance of the highway, stretches of which are a torture test for both man and machine.
“The letter also states that repairs alone aren’t enough to improve the highway. The Union minister has recommended immediate land acquisition to widen the road into four lanes,” a source in the chief minister’s office said.
Work on 443.5km of the NH-34, connecting Barasat on the northern fringes of the city to Dalkhola in North Dinajpur, has been stalled since the last couple of years of Left rule. The erstwhile government had promised to acquire land for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), but backed out in the face of Trinamul’s land-acquisition protests.
Chances of the NHAI getting land to widen the highway had all but dissipated until the new chief minister herself saw — and felt — what the common man does every time he travels down that road. So uncomfortable was Mamata’s 26km ride from Barasat to Writers’ Buildings on October 19 that she was left wiping beads of sweat off her forehead and fuming over the condition of the road.
“Take up repairs immediately, the road is in terrible shape,” she later told PWD minister Subrata Bakshi.
Some patchwork followed, but the highway has remained unfit for traffic.
“Repairs wouldn’t serve any purpose. Given the increase in the volume of traffic, this stretch needs to be widened into four lanes. The NHAI has been waiting to start work but land hasn’t been available yet,” A. Ahluwalia, the chief general manager (technical) of the NHAI, told Metro.
The committee set up by the state government to identify land for acquisition is headed by chief secretary Samar Ghosh and comprises the secretaries of different departments, including PWD, power, land, public health engineering and forest.
Sources said 40.19 hectares were required in North 24-Parganas alone. “Next week, we will be meeting the NHAI chairman and, hopefully, things should start moving,” said PWD secretary A.R. Bardhan.
Trinamul’s stated position is not to directly participate in land acquisition for industry, but it has maintained a diplomatic silence on getting land for “projects of national importance”. According to the NHAI, widening NH34 certainly comes in the second category.
“The capacity of the existing two-lane road is 15,000 PCU (passenger car units). The existing traffic on the road is approximately 23,000 PCU. The capacity of the road has been reduced further by ribbon development along its length. A quarter of the road on either side is taken over by cycles and cycle rickshaws, leaving little for motor traffic,” Ahluwalia had said in a report to the NHAI chairman.