New Delhi, March 11: Two days after the model code of conduct took effect, the ministry of road transport and highways cleared road projects worth Rs 2,573 crore in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
The spurt of project clearances comes at a time when the norm is not to clear any new project in view of the upcoming elections. Recently, in a circular sent by cabinet secretary Ajit Seth to all the ministers, Seth had categorically noted that with the model code of conduct in place, no new projects that could influence the voters’ choice should be approved.
The projects were approved by a high-powered committee headed by roads secretary Vijay Chibber, a Manipur-Tripura cadre officer. The panel has 20 other members, including Planning Commission secretary, DoNER secretary and department of expenditure secretary.
The meeting took place on March 7, just two days after the Election Commission announced the poll dates. Of the eight projects, four are new ones that came up for approval for the very first time. These include two in Assam and one each in Meghalaya and Tripura. The other four are old projects, which came up only because there was a hike in the budget owing to cost increase in land acquisition. Three of these are in Arunachal Pradesh and one in Assam.
According to the officials at the ministry of road transport and highways, the meeting was called two weeks back. The officials claimed that they were expecting the Election Commission to announce the dates on March 8.
“These are long-term projects and none of the them are of urgent nature, so usually it is left for the next government to decide. Moreover, it is practically end of this financial year. The norm is to take up new projects only in the next financial year,” said a senior ministry official. Sources said the clearances have been made in a hurry, without “due diligence” in fixing the costs.
A road project has to go through several stages before work can begin. It is first cleared in principle by the cabinet committee on economic affairs. Then in case of projects pertaining to the Northeast, it is appraised by a high-powered committee, which basically clears the alignment and the cost of the project. Once these parameters are finalised by the panel, tenders can be called and work allotted
The list of projects cleared includes four-laning of two stretches of National Highway 37, also called Assam Trunk Road. The first one involves four-laning of Demow to Bogibil junction, a distance of 46km and at a cost of Rs 742 crore. The project will reduce the time and cost of travel between Guwahati and Dibrugarh.
The committee also approved four-laning of National Highway 37 from Numaligarh to Jorhat. This project will be completed at a cost of Rs 703 crore. It is set to reduce time of travel between Nagaon and Dibrugarh.
The ministry will now have to seek the approval of the Election Commission before it can call for tenders. Ministry officials claimed that even these eight projects that were sanctioned on March 7 were part of the bigger package — Special Accelerated Road Development Projects for the Northeast. “These projects are not entirely new, as they have already got in principle approval earlier. We are just clearing the bureaucratic tangles to give them a start,” said a senior official.