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Highway project scrapped for land

- No acquisition in 6 years for four-laning of NH35, cloud on other widening plans

Calcutta, Sept. 4: The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has scrapped the four-laning of NH35, which connects Barasat and Bongaon in North 24-Parganas, because of the state government’s failure to arrange for land in the past six years.

The NHAI informed the government about its decision during a recent meeting with chief secretary Samar Ghosh at Writers’ Buildings.

A senior NHAI official told The Telegraph: “The four-laning of NH35 had to be scrapped as the state government did not take any initiative to arrange for land since the project was taken up in 2006.”

“It has been decided that the 60km highway will only be widened to 10 metres. Now, the road is 7 metres wide in some places and 5 metres elsewhere. The widening work will be done by the state public works department (PWD) and funds will be provided by the Union surface transport ministry,” the official added.

The Telegraph had reported on December 29 that NHAI project director Anil Dixit had hinted that the agency could scrap the project if land was not acquired.

A senior PWD official said the project could not be started because the NHAI “did not tell the state how much land was required for the project”.

“Trinamul-led land protests prompted the erstwhile Left Front government to inform the NHAI that acquisition was not possible for the widening of NH35. The NHAI had, however, decided to prepare a detailed project report. But the survey could not be completed because of stiff resistance from residents.”

After the change of guard at Writers’, the NHAI waited for another year for the government’s response.

“But the new government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition has compelled the NHAI to scrap the plan. The project was important because the road leads to the India-Bangladesh border at Petrapole, the largest trade gateway between the two countries that accounts for 60 per cent of the business volume of around Rs 8,000 crore,” a Writers’ official said.

Writers’ officials said the NHAI had “sent a strong message” to the Mamata Banerjee-led government, which is allegedly dragging its feet on acquiring land for the widening of NH34 (Calcutta airport to Dalkhola in North Dinajpur), NH31 and NH31D (Siliguri to Salsabari in Jalpaiguri).

“The NHAI has taken up projects to widen five national highways in Bengal — NH2 (Delhi road), NH6 (Mumbai road), NH34, NH31 and NH31D. The Land acquisition process for these projects has not been satisfactory. NHAI officials are scheduled to meet the chief secretary this month to urge the state to expedite the process,” an NHAI official said.

Not much land is required for the widening of NH2 and NH6 but the NHAI is worried about the NH34 project. (See chart)

“We are concerned about the widening of NH34 as 826.67 hectares have to be acquired. The project was flagged off in November 2010 but a major portion of the land is yet to be handed over to us,” the NHAI official said.

Landowners are protesting acquisition for the NH34, NH31 and NH31D projects.

The state government persuaded the NHAI to pay an additional 42 per cent cash to landlosers. “Although the NHAI has agreed to pay the higher compensation package, the state is yet to take the acquisition process forward on large stretches,” the NHAI official said.

State government officials said the NHAI had several times urged the state to expedite land acquisition for NH34.

“The NHAI has expressed its dissatisfaction over the tardy acquisition process. If the state does not expedite acquisition, the NHAI may reconsider the NH34 project,” a Writers’ official said.

A PWD official said land acquisition for the NH34 project had “progressed in North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad”.

“But acquisition has been hit on the stretch between Calcutta airport and Krishnagar because of resistance from landowners,” he added.