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Highway stuck for land

Siliguri, Dec. 18: The National Highways Authority of India has said it cannot proceed with the four-laning of NH31D because it does not have enough land for the project.

“We require around 625 hectares (1,544 acres) from Ghoshpukur (on Siliguri’s outskirts) to Salsalabari (near Alipurduar on the Bengal-Assam border) to lay the four-lane expressway aligning it with NH31D,” said R.K. Chaudhry, the project director of NHAI posted in Siliguri.

“Letters have been sent from our end to the state government and administrations of concerned districts since 2009, but for whatever reasons only half of the land has been cleared till date,” he said.

Chaudhry added: “This delay in land acquisition and handing it over to us is delaying the bid and commencement of construction.”

The state government is supposed to acquire land and hand it over to the NHAI for the highway expansion. But last month, the land commissioner’s office sent a letter to all government departments ordering them to steer clear of land acquisition.

According to Chaudhry, the NHAI follows a general guideline of awarding construction work to companies only when at least 80 per cent of the land required is with it.

In this case, a little over 700 acres (see chart) have been acquired so far.

NHAI sources said the stretch in north Bengal is among the last two of the entire East-West Corridor — from Porbander in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam — where work is yet to start.

The only other stretch where work is to be awarded is a 31km stretch in Assam, sources said.

“We have however, initiated the process to invite qualification bids for the stretch. The bids would be opened on December 26. A tentative cost of Rs 2,212 crores has been assessed for the project,” the officials said.

“A sum of Rs 7.44 crore has been sanctioned for the damaged stretches between Siliguri and Jalpaiguri. Repair work has been also done by contractors who had the responsibility for maintaining the road,” Chaudhry said. “However, unless the four-laning is done and the road is widened and strengthened from the base, it is tough to maintain the highway.”

“This was a state highway earlier (SH12A) which was upgraded to NH31D for four-laning. The base material and reinforcements on state highways differ from national highways as it is obvious that vehicular movements would be less than national highways,” the NHAI official said.

But right now “95 per cent of heavy vehicles moving through this region pass through this highway,” Chaudhry said.

The highway is so potholed that when vehicles trundle down, they kick up a haze of dust that never seems to clear.

Gautam Deb, the north Bengal development minister, today said the state government was looking into the issue.

“However, the NHAI, by pointing to the land issue, cannot evade from its onus of repairing the road, which is still in a bad shape,” he said.