Bhubaneswar, June 7: The focus of the state government is more on the Nabakalebar (change of idols) of Lord Jagannath and His siblings in their 12th century abode in Puri than the coming rath yatra.
The festival, for which chief minister Naveen Patnaik recently sought a special assistance of Rs 1,397 crore from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a huge draw with Puri expected to see around 50 lakh devotees and tourists from around the world. Its 2015 edition, to be held in July that year, will be taking place after a gap of 19 years.
As infrastructure for the big event is being put in place with an expected outlay of Rs 1,000 crore, the state government remains worried about the project involving four-laning of the Bhubaneswar-Puri road, better known as national highway-203. It is yet to be completed more than three years after being launched.
The road, which would bear the brunt of the traffic during Nabakalebar, would ensure that vehicles coming from Cuttack do not have to negotiate the Bhubaneswar traffic. The traffic from Cuttack would join NH-203 at Balkati via the bypass. Once completed, the travel time between Bhubaneswar and Puri will reduce by nearly 30 minutes.
All eyes are now on this 60km stretch being four-laned between Bhubaneswar and Puri. “The chief minister and the chief secretary have held a series of meetings to review preparations for Nabakalebar. The non-completion of this road project have come up every time,” said a senior government official.
The project is being executed by the National Highways Authority of India, which, in 2011, awarded the contract for the expansion of the Bhubaneswar and Puri road to Kaz Story Service Infrastructure Limited at an estimated cost of Rs 193.75 crore.
The project includes construction and expansion of the road covering a distance of 67.255km with four bypasses, re-alignment on a 6.49-km stretch and widening of existing carriage way for 27.38km. The stretch of 67.255km has three major bridges, 17 minor ones and 52 culverts.
The project was to be over in 2013, but it has lingered chiefly because of land acquisition problems. The major patches of work are yet to be over because of the land acquisition in many pockets. Acquiring land has been a major problem in areas such as Pandara Basti, Uttara, Birgobindpur, Sakhigopal and Puri bypass, said the company’s project director C.S. Singh. “Things have been sorted out at other places, but problems linger in Birgobindpur and Puri bypass area,” he said. It involves acquisition of 227.5 acres of private land.
Officials, too, admitted that land acquisition was a bottleneck. But, they also added availability of raw material as another hurdle, pointing out the road construction of buffer parking slots on the NH-203 to reduce congestion during peak hours would take time.
Newly appointed revenue minister Bijayshree Routray said: “The government is committed to complete all the works related to infrastructure development before Nabakalebar. Being new to the department, I am yet to go acquaint myself with the land acquisition issue. I will certainly look into it.”
Singh, who said the road would be ready by March 2015 if the company was handed over the required land by the state government, cited the nature of the soil along the entire Bhubaneswar-Puri stretch as another major reason for the work getting delayed. “We have found clay soil along the route — which is not conducive to road construction. It needs sand filling and sand is not easy to get,” he said.
In another development, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board has issued a show cause notice to the company asking it to stop the operation of its crusher unit near Khurda for alleged violation of pollution norms following a complaint by local residents. The unit is the main source of chips and boulders for the ongoing roadwork.
“The show cause notice was issued yesterday. They have failed to provide the records for the land on which the crusher has been put up. They have also failed to meet the pollution norms,” said a senior board official.
However, a company official said they had not been operating the crusher since their permit expired in March this year. “We have applied for renewal, but we have not received any closure notice from the board,” said Singh, adding that the crusher was lying closed because there were no boulders to be crushed at the moment.
Khurda additional district magistrate Umakant Tripathy said: “We are ready to provide all help to the pollution control board to close down the unit. But, we are yet to receive any orders.”
While a big question mark hangs over the fate of the showcase Bhubaneswar-Puri road expansion project, work on secondary roads such as the Jatni-Pipili-Nimapada-Konark road and the Phulnakhara-Charichak-Gop road also remains incomplete. These roads would take the load of traffic moving towards Puri from Berhampur and Cuttack. Officials are keeping their fingers crossed.