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Road ministry taps poll panel

Shashi Tharoor

New Delhi, March 18: The road ministry has sought the poll panel’s permission to set rolling the approval process for two highway projects in Shashi Tharoor’s and Naveen Jindal’s constituencies.

Tharoor and Jindal have been re-nominated by the Congress from Thiruvananthapuram and Kurukshetra respectively.

On March 5, Oscar Fernandes’s team sought the Election Commission’s nod to place before the cabinet committee on economic affairs proposals for the four-laning of two highways in the two seats.

Any road project requiring a budget of Rs 500 crore has to be approved by the CCEA. Tenders are floated only after that.

In its letter to the Election Commission, the road ministry claimed it was seeking permission for “procedural processes” that would in no way affect voting patterns. But the panel has yet to respond to the request.

Both the projects are to be built on a public-private-partnership basis on a build-operate-transfer model. The private contractor will take care of actual road-widening expenses, but the government will have to bear pre-construction expenses such as land acquisition and shifting of electricity and water lines.

Tharoor’s office has been pushing the project, making calls to Fernandes and bureaucrats in the road ministry. On Tuesday, he tweeted a report card on his performance as MP, listing the project — Kazhakuttam to Mukkola — on NH47 as one of his key achievements.

A stretch on the highway has to be widened from two lanes to four. The National Highways Authority of India approved the project in March last year.

The second project involves the four-laning of a 96km stretch of NH65, connecting Ambala town to Kaithal in Haryana at a budget of Rs 724 crore. Kaithal falls in Jindal’s Kurukshetra Lok Sabha constituency.

Haryana PWD minister Randeep Singh Surjewala, who represents the Kaithal Assembly seat, is also pursuing the project.

“Even if the CCEA gives its approval, the tendering process will take 45 days by when the elections would already be under way,” a senior official said.

The UPA government’s road construction record has not been too good. In the last 10 years, the road ministry has seen four ministers: T.R. Baalu, Kamal Nath, C.P. Joshi and Fernandes.

In 2009, Nath had announced that 20km of roads would be built a day. But the actual pace has been much slower at 6km a day.