Land-shy road plan price: Rs 1250cr - Govt to fund widening as requirement to involve private players falls short by 3m

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  • Published 20.02.14

Calcutta, Feb. 19: The Mamata Banerjee government will have to spend Rs 1,250 crore to widen state highways as its aversion to acquire land is coming in the way of implementing the project in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

“The state highways need to be widened and strengthened to seven metres. This government proposes to undertake widening of 1,000km in the next financial year at a cost of Rs 1,250 crore,” finance minister Amit Mitra said in his budget speech on Monday.

There is little doubt that the decision to widen 1,000km of state highways will strengthen road infrastructure, but the question doing the rounds in Nabanna is whether the government could have got private investors to pump in the money.

Senior officials with knowledge of roads and infrastructure said they were shocked by the finance minister’s announcement as they believe the outgo on the project could have been saved had the state government shown pragmatism and widened the state highways up to 10 metres.

“Had the state shown a little more courage and planned to widen the roads to 10 metres instead of seven, the project could have been taken up in the PPP mode and the state could have saved crores of rupees,” a senior government official said.

According to finance commission guidelines, road projects can be implemented in the PPP mode only if the width of the stretch is 10 metres. The states are allowed to levy toll on roads that are at least 10 metres wide.

The two preconditions had thrown a spanner in the state government’s original plan of implementing the project under the PPP module.

“As land had to be acquired to widen the state highways to 10 metres, the state government had dragged its feet on carrying out the project in the PPP mode. No private investor came forward as toll could not be levied. Private investors implementing road projects levy toll to recover the cost,” an official said.

Several officials said the state government’s hands-off land policy could be a hurdle in widening the highways to seven metres as well.

“The state cannot avoid acquisition as the width of the majority of the state highways is five metres. The government does not have much land along most stretches of these roads. So it will have to acquire land. If you can acquire land for widening roads up to seven metres, why not acquire for three more metres?” another senior official said.

The official said with the increase in vehicles, the government might need to further widen the roads in the future.

A Bengal minister said: “It has been seen earlier that the less the quantum of land acquired, the less is the trouble because it involves lesser number of owners.”

Officials drew attention to how land acquisition-related problems had hobbled the widening of NH35, connecting Barasat and Bongaon.

“The state government wanted to widen the highway up to seven metres after the National Highways Authority of India called off its plan of four-laning in early 2013 because of non-availability of land. Although the state government had planned to do the widening on its own, it has not been able to start the project in the last one year because of resistance from land owners and encroachers,” an official said.

cloud on cancer centre

Burdwan University has announced an administrative building on a seven-acre plot earmarked by Burdwan Medical College Hospital for a Rs 42-crore Centre-funded cancer research centre.

The varsity said the land belonged to it. According to officials, the plot opposite the medical college got recorded as a property of the institute when it was under Burdwan University till 2002.

Apart from the cancer research centre, a mother and childcare hub, for which the medical college has got Rs 16 crore from the state, was planned on the land.

The departments of health and education are in talks for alternative land for the health care projects, sources said.

Report by Indranil Sarkar