Ambalappuzha MLA calls for audit of works on NH 47; highways in Alappuzha, Thrissur-Palakkad stretch in state of disrepair
Several contractors working on national highways are ‘benamis’ of engineers in government departments concerned, Ambalappuzha MLA G. Sudhakaran has said. He has called for an audit of works over the last five years on National Highway 47 under a departmental initiative to ensure that corrupt engineers and contractors are punished.
The MLA was reacting to the plight of NH 47 in Alappuzha district. “The highway was re-laid three to four months ago for the visit of the Indian President. However, it is in utter disrepair now," he said, pointing to the severely-potholed stretch between Alappuzha town and its southern suburbs.
He said engineers and contractors had forged a nexus that did not fear the people, the government or any authority. That was why a highway that had been built to last at least five years had fallen apart in three to six months, he alleged.
There was no quality audit of the roads being built in the State. Such a situation could not be allowed to continue for long, he added, and recounted his recent experience on a highway.
Mr. Sudhakaran had recently undertaken an autorickshaw ride through dilapidated roads in Alappuzha. “The potholes are deep and wide and a threat to life,” he said. Especially vulnerable are two-wheeler riders.
Vehicles that try to avoid potholes have frequently met with accidents similar to the one at Kanjirapilly a few days ago where a car that swerved to the right to avoid a gaping pothole rammed into a lorry, killing four people.
On the dismal condition of NH 47 in Alappuzha, a senior PWD-NH wing engineer said repair works had to be retendered because initially only one contractor had submitted his bid. “We had to retender the work in keeping with Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines. The monsoon began by the time we awarded the contract. Currently, potholes are being repaired using wet mix macadam (WMM). A bituminous coating will be given once rains subside.”
Concorde Constructions has been awarded the work to resurface a 22-km dilapidated stretch south of Alappuzha. An agreement will soon be signed with a contractor to carry out Rs. 5.80-crore worth repair works along ill-maintained portions of Aroor-Cherthala-Paripilly stretch on the highway. Around Rs. 12 crore has been sought from the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), sources said.
Interestingly, while vehicles move at high speeds over well-maintained six and eight-lane highways in neighbouring States, the State and Central governments have been unable to ensure pothole-free, two-lane highways in Kerala.
The inability of the two governments has resulted in the number of accidents skyrocketing during the monsoon season along shabby and dilapidated highways that criss-cross the State. Traffic hold-ups have become the norm, especially in ill-maintained stretches and at narrow junctions.
However, neither government has stepped in to restore roads and to augment safety measures.
Widening narrow two-lane corridors to four lanes has also lost steam, despite reports stating that the Union Ministry is not averse to the State having the final say on acquiring land at a width of 30 m or 45 m.
Neither has taken steps to remove encroachers and to curb haphazard parking that are choking the abysmally-narrow NH 47, NH 17 and NH 49.
A senior PWD (NH wing) official said the State government had to step in with a Rs. 5-crore special grant to repair the pothole-riddled Thrissur-Palakkad NH since the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) was willing to spend just Rs. 60 lakh for restoring the stretch.
“The NHAI did nothing to repair the stretch during summer months. With the highway’s condition worsening during the monsoon, especially at Kuthiraan, it has cited its helplessness. We will restore 10 km of the stretch, while the NHAI must urgently repair 20 km of the highway where the tarred surface has been washed away.”
The State would have chipped in with funds and repaired severely-potholed areas if the NHAI had not cited ‘audit objection’ as an excuse for keeping the Public Works Department (PWD) from undertaking repairs, he said. The highway was last repaired in 2009.
While overlooking the fact that little was done to speed up awarding of works prior to summer months, an official in the Ministry said rains were hampering repair works.
“The repair works that will be done once rains take a break will last for up to four years, depending on the weather and number of heavy vehicles that use the NH,” he said.
NH 17, NH 49
PWD-NH wing and MoRTH are yet to restore damaged portions of NH 17 and NH 49, despite the steep increase in number of vehicles using them.