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Land hope shines on highway

- Acquisition to be done by govt in a year, says NHAI official

Calcutta, Sept. 22: The Mamata Banerjee government has agreed to acquire land within a year for four-laning NH31D, an official of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has said.

If the state acquires the land, it will be a departure from its hands-off land policy.

Sources in the state government said the decision was taken at a meeting of senior officials of the state public works department, the NHAI and the Union ministry of roads, transport and highways in Delhi on Thursday.

The failure of the Bengal government to acquire land had prompted the NHAI to return the NH31D to the state this August.

Officials said around 1,400 acres were required to widen NH31D, part of the East-West Corridor from Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam. The Bengal government has so far acquired only 20 per cent of the land.

An NHAI official today said the Union ministry of roads, transport and highways had sanctioned Rs 95.2 crore to carry out repairs on a 67km stretch of NH31D between Fulbari near Siliguri and Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri

“The state government has said it will acquire the land required for four-laning in one year,” the official added.

According to the official, the ministry has sanctioned the amount to repair the two-lane highway because it expects that the four-laning work will be completed in three years if the state hands over the required land in a year.

Senior state government officials said it was not often that the ministry allotted an amount as high as Rs 95 crore for repairs on a two-lane highway as it cannot levy a toll for two-lane roads.

Several highway-widening projects in Bengal have been stalled because of the state’s reluctance to acquire land.

“But the situation started changing in the past six months. Work to widen NH34 (Barasat-Dalkhola) has progressed significantly. But this is the first time the state government has agreed to acquire land within a time frame,” a senior state government official said.

Asked about the NH31D project, north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb said: “We are against forcible acquisition of land. But the state also wants the four-lane project to be completed in north Bengal for better connectivity…. We are always ready for talks with landowners to ensure they receive the best compensation.”

A wider NH31D would offer faster travel between north Bengal’s tea gardens and the tea trade centres in Siliguri and Assam.

But the government has faced protests from landowners in Falakata and Dhupguri blocks in Jalpaiguri. The NH31D is the only part of the East-West Corridor where four-laning work is yet to begin.