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NHAI withdrawn from road project

- Move after Assam’s delay in providing clearance to four-laning of NH37 stretch

Jorhat, Feb. 14: The National Highway Authority of India has been withdrawn from four-laning of the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch of National Highway 37, purportedly because of Assam’s inordinate delay in providing land clearance.

The NHAI had handed over charge to the state PWD (highways) in January and its project implementation unit based at Sivasagar packed its bags and left on Monday.

An NHAI official said the decision to this effect was taken by the ministry of roads and transport, under which the project is being implemented, in November last year.

He said the delay in acquisition of land encroached upon on either side of the proposed four-lane highway and clearing of utilities like electric poles and pipes had resulted in the Centre taking the decision to hand over the work in the next phase to the state PWD.

“The work was started in 2005 and should have been completed by 2008-09. However, poor government response to clearance of land and some other problems has forced the Centre to withdraw NHAI as the executing authority of the Nagaon-Dibrugarh portion of the highway,” he said.

“The state government is about to float tenders and work is scheduled to start from March. Had its response been like this earlier, we could have finished the work in the stipulated time,” he added.

An engineer of Assam PWD Roads (national highway) said the NHAI was going very slow over one pretext or the other and projecting Assam as an extremist-prone area because of which they wanted to leave.

“They have taken almost 10 years to complete a part of the four-lane highway but we now have the technical capacity and a few contractors who can take up a Rs 300-crore work at one go,” he said.

The order for closing of the NHAI’s Sivasagar unit stated that the manager posted there should be posted at its Nagaon unit as the ministry would be taking up the Numaligarh-Dibrugarh portion on EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) mode by itself.

It also instructed that all documents pertaining to land and environment clearance, which the NHAI has acquired through its consultants for this portion of the road, should be sent to the ministry to be constructed through the EPC mode.

Usually roads are constructed in two modes — the BOT and the EPC. In BOT (build, operate, transfer) mode, the contractor constructs the road with his own money, recovers the cost through toll tax, does repairs for 20 years or so and hands it over to the government after the cost is recovered. In EPC mode, the contractor submits bills, which are paid by the government.

Another source hinted that the big construction companies working on the four-lane highway were no longer willing to work in this section as the costs had escalated because of the long delay, making it non-profitable.

“This is true of the whole Northeast where all the projects are delayed because of non-clearance of land, environment and other utilities,” he said.

A review by DoNER ministry, dated April 27, 2012, had stated that the NHAI “was ready with the bid documents” on three stretches of NH 37 and had mentioned some important local issues which the NHAI and the Assam government would have to sort out expeditiously.

The ministry mentioned a “local problem” at Dergaon town in the Numaligarh-Jorhat section, a local issue connected with an irrigation channel on a 16km-stretch of the Jorhat-Demow section and the need to expeditiously complete land acquisition in the Demow-Dibrugarh section.

It said the Assam government has to take a firm and quick decision on these local problems and complete the land acquisition to enable NHAI to hand over the land to the concessionaire without any encumbrances.

“Without the state government’s active support on these issues, the deadline of completion cannot be maintained,” it had stated.