PM nudge to Bengal on highway delay

Calcutta: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently reminded the Bengal government that a seven-year delay in widening the national highway 34 between Barasat and Krishnagar has escalated costs by more than three times, sources said.

"It is indeed a cause for concern if a project cannot be completed in seven years.... Had the project been completed in time, the country would have been benefited," the Prime Minister was quoted as saying at the Pragati meeting, held on November 22.

According to sources, the delay in widening the 84km stretch because of land-related problems has escalated costs from Rs 800 crore in 2010 to Rs 2,600 crore now.

The Prime Minister, however, approved a portion of the revised project cost.

The Pragati (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation) meeting is held every month where the Prime Minister interacts with the chief secretaries of all states. Bengal chief secretary Malay De had interacted with the Prime Minister through video-conferencing from Uttarkanya in Siliguri.

The meeting is aimed at addressing the common people's grievances and monitoring and reviewing important programmes and projects of the Centre and the states.

The widening of NH34 - which connects Calcutta airport to Dalkhola in North Dinajpur - had been started in 2009 and was supposed to be completed by 2013.

But the then Left Front government failed to arrange for land for the 84km Barasat-Krishnagar stretch because of protests backed by Trinamul. Work on the widening, however, started partially in the remaining portion of the highway.

After the change of guard in 2011, the Trinamul-led government also failed to make much headway in acquiring land for the widening, which brought the project to a grinding halt.

The Bengal government, however, started acquiring land in 2015, when the stretch turned into a nightmare for motorists because of lack of maintenance.

Around the same time, Nabanna asked the Centre to hand over the stretch to the state government so that the project could be completed at the earliest. The stretch was handed over to the Bengal government in 2016, sources said.

"But since then, no progress could be made as the revised estimate was yet to be vetted by the Centre and the land acquisition in North 24-Parganas was yet to be completed," said an official.

At the Pragati meeting, the Prime Minister flagged off the state's failure in acquiring land. But he also took the initiative to ensure that a portion of the revised estimate was approved.

"The stretch in Nadia whose widening would cost nearly Rs 1,400 crore was cleared soon after the meeting. But the part in North 24-Parganas, where land acquisition is yet to be completed, has been held back for the moment," said a senior engineer.

According to officials working on the project, it had been getting tough to get the revised plan sanctioned before the Prime Minister intervened.

"We had explained that land acquisition cost had escalated and a few bridges and service roads had been added to make the project trouble-free for motorists. But the Centre was not ready to clear the project. It was getting delayed all the more," said an engineer.


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