The cratered NH31D. File picture
Calcutta, Sept. 22: The Mamata Banerjee government has agreed to acquire land within a year for widening NH31D, an official of the National Highways Authority of India has said.
Sources in the state government said the decision was taken at a meeting of senior officials of the state public works department, the National Highways Authority of India and the central ministry of roads, transport and highways in Delhi on Thursday.
The NH31D is now looked after by the Bengal government as the NHAI returned the road to the state in August after waiting several years for land — around 1400 acres is required — to widen the road from two lanes to four. The Trinamul government’s hands-off land policy came in the way of land acquisition.
“The ministry of roads, transport and highways sanctioned Rs 95.2 crore to carry out repairs on a 67km stretch between Fulbari near Siliguri and Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri on NH31D. It needs urgent renovation,” an NHAI official said. “The state government has said it will acquire the land in one year,” the official said.
According to the official, the ministry sanctioned the amount to repair the two-lane highway because it expected the four-laning work would be done 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 because it cannot levy a toll for two-lane roads.
Several highway widening projects across Bengal have been stalled because of the government’s reluctance to acquire land.
“The situation started changing in the past six months. Work to widen NH34 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.”
The NH31D is part of the East-West Corridor from Porbandar in Gujarat to Silchar in Assam. The four-laning of the highway has to be taken up from Ghoshpukur in Siliguri to Salsalabari in Cooch Behar, a stretch of 155km. According to officials, the widening of NH31D would require about 570 hectares (around 1,400 acres). But the state has been able to acquire only 20 per cent of the required land.
The government has also faced protests from landowners in Falakata and Dhupguri blocks in Jalpaiguri.
A wider NH31D would offer faster travel between north Bengal’s tea gardens and the tea trade centres in Siliguri and Assam.
The NH31D and NH34 are the lifeline of north Bengal, whose railway network is not comparable to south Bengal’s.
The NH31D is the only part of the East-West Corridor where four-laning work is yet to begin.
On June 26, more than 300 private buses and nearly 100 trucks kept off roads in Jalpaiguri district as their owners protested delay in repairing the potholed NH31D.
In December last year, Mamata had cancelled a programme in Jalpaiguri, apparently to avoid the potholed NH31D.
Prior to becoming a national highway 31D, the road was state highway 12A. It was converted to a national highway and renamed NH31D in 2009 to facilitate its expansion.
The NHAI was given the responsibility of four-laning the highway as a part of the east-west corridor.
But the road-widening ran into trouble with environmentalists, who did not want the highway to cut across the Dooars that has several reserve forests. By the time the highway was realigned, the Left had developed cold feet on land acquisition after Singur and Nandigram land protests.