Construction material stacked on reclaimed government land along a 7.2-km stretch of Jessore Road, currently (right) a heavily cratered two-lane carriageway that is soon to become a four-lane highway. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
The Mamata Banerjee government has reclaimed land to widen a cratered and congested 7.2-km stretch of Jessore Road from the airport to Barasat into a four-lane highway, taking another baby step towards freeing infrastructure projects from land logjams.
The public works department is set to issue a notice inviting road construction companies to bid for the project under the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) module by the end of this month. Work could start within six months.
A senior PWD official said Rs 63.20 crore had been sanctioned by the Union ministry of road, transport and highways for the project.
“The EPC module requires companies participating in the bidding process to draw up a plan and submit an estimate for the project. The department awards the project to the company that offers the best design, rates and post-construction liabilities. The process takes about six months. It is expected that the four-lane project will start by March 2014,” the official said.
No large infrastructure project initiated in Bengal in the post-Nandigram period has been completed because of the state’s reluctance to acquire land or reclaim it from encroachers.
“In this case, the government has reclaimed its land by persuading the encroachers to vacate the area required for the project. It can be termed a baby step towards resolving land tangles in Bengal, though it is still not clear whether the chief minister would allow various departments to go ahead with land acquisition for infrastructure projects,” said a bureaucrat at Writers’ Buildings.
The state’s success in reclaiming land to widen Jessore Road follows the breakthrough in Salt Lake’s Duttabad, where settlers have been convinced to relocate for the sake of the East-West Metro project. Metro had highlighted on Tuesday how the 365-metre stretch that one construction company had abandoned and others had refused to touch has attracted three bidders since Mamata stepped in to remove the roadblocks.
“We hope the government will allow its departments to acquire land for infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges because that is so important to attract industry to Bengal. The proposed expansion of Jessore Road is very encouraging,” the bureaucrat said.
Since establishing the Trinamul Congress’s dominance in rural Bengal with a panchayat poll sweep, Mamata has focused on two spheres that she appeared to have neglected in the first phase of her tenure: industry and infrastructure.
She has visited Mumbai, shared the dais with Mukesh Ambani and other A-listers of India Inc and tried to convey the message that she means business.
Her administration too has been trying to slowly remove the hurdles that have held up projects within the city. A committee empowered to take administrative decisions has been formed for the East-West Metro and negotiations have resumed on the stalled Parama-Park Circus flyover.
Senior officials of the PWD said the government had realised that there was no alternative to widening the 7.2-km stretch of Jessore Road from Airport Gate No. 1 till Dak Bungalow More in Barasat, currently a heavily cratered two-lane road that bears the load of traffic more than double its capacity.
The road is part of the stretch of NH34 that was returned to the state government last year by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which had waited four years for land to start the four-lane project.
“A two-lane road needs to be converted into a four-lane one when the traffic load reaches 12,000 passenger cars a day. Jessore Road bears the load of 30,000 passenger cars and goods vehicles a day. This is one of the reasons why craters show up so soon after repairs,” an engineer said.
The road will, of course, undergo the usual post-monsoon patchwork long before the widening project starts. The PWD has already received three bids for a Rs 3.43-crore contract to make the road motorable, though there is always the danger of a spell of heavy rain reducing such repairs to a waste of public money.
“For a road with heavy load, it is important to go for strengthening rather than superficial repairs. By NHAI standards, the top layer should have a thickness of anything between 40 to 50mm of bituminous cover. The base should have a bituminous layer of 100 to 120mm,” A. Ahluwalia, chief general manager of the NHAI, had told Metro.
Commuters subjected to the torture of a trip through Jessore Road in its present condition might be happier about the carriageway being widened and strengthened after six months rather than the ritualistic patchwork that is set to begin next week.
The state government had to contend with two problems before deciding to widen the road. The first challenge was to reclaim the encroached land.
“The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority undertook a drainage project along the road, persuading the encroachers to vacate the land required for it. The project has been almost completed and the encroachers have not been allowed to come back,” an official said.
The PWD has since surveyed the stretch and found that the available land on either flank is enough to widen the road into a four-lane highway with a width of 14 metres.
Another hurdle was money but the PWD has got the ministry of road, transport and highways to sanction the required amount for the four-lane project. “It was a tough task but we have managed to get Rs 63.20 crore,” the official said.
Sources said Delhi was just as keen to get the road widened because it will be a part of the East-West corridor.
“If the state can widen the entire 17-km stretch of NH-34 that was handed over to it last year, the road can be given back to the NHAI. For the remaining 10-km stretch, the government will have to allow us to complete pending acquisition cases,” the official said.
- Stretch: Airport to Dak Bungalow More
- Length: 7.2 km
- Estimated cost:
Rs 63.20 crore
- Proposed width:
14 metres (four lanes, each 3.5 metre)
- Notice inviting companies: To be issued by September
- Selection of companies for bidding: Mid-October
- Awarding the project: Early 2014
- Project may start: March 2014