The tussle between National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and Cochin Tollways Private Limited (CTPL) over maintenance of Edappally-Aroor NH 47 Bypass is worsening.
As per official figures, the NHAI rakes in Rs. 19.75 lakh per week from collection of toll from motorists using the busy 16-km stretch. But the agency is not willing to spend even a penny on filling potholes and replacing damaged expansion joints of bridges, despite mounting number of accidents along the bypass.
Besides, the NHAI has not paid heed to directions issued by the traffic police to clear weeds and shrubs from the four-metre-wide median and service roads. Motorists taking a U-turn are unable to see fast moving vehicles until they enter the fast track on the other side. As a result, accidents like the one that occurred at a U-turn in Chakkaraparambu last week have become common. A car that was speeding through the stretch rammed an autorickshaw and a two-wheeler at the U-turn, following which the two-wheeler rider died on the spot.
A senior traffic police officer said the NHAI was citing a set of routine excuses to justify its inability to repair roads and bridges and augment safety measures at U-turns. “The agency that collects a total of Rs. 10.10 crore annually has so far not even painted pedestrian lines at Chalikkavattom, Chakkaraparambu, Kannadikkad and in front of Ernakulam Medical College, where hundreds of pedestrians risk their life to cross the busy NH Bypass each day.”
He also pointed to the NHAI’s inability in removing encroachers and checking haphazard parking on service roads, despite its project director enjoying extensive quasi-judicial powers. The police have also been citing unscientific location of bus stops and absence of bus bays as reasons for accidents and frequent traffic hold-ups.
The NHAI has not issued an operation maintenance tolling (OMT) notification, despite entering into an agreement with CTPL – a subsidiary of Hyderabad-based BVSR Constructions — in March.
CTPL director Sreekanth Reddy said the stretch was among the worst maintained highways in India. “The NHAI is duty bound to maintain the bypass in good condition till it issues a notification handing it over to us.”
However, NHAI’s Kochi project director C.T. Abraham blamed the CTPL for the pathetic condition of the bypass. “They are citing excuses to delay taking over the corridor’s upkeep and toll collection.”
Though the NHAI did nothing to repair roads and replace damaged expansion joints of bridges during the summer, Mr. Abraham blamed the monsoon for the agency not being able to carry out repair works.
Traffic was banned through the Kumbalam-Aroor bridge after potholes developed all over its surface in the initial weeks of the monsoon. On why durable ‘mastic asphalt’ technology was not being adopted to repair potholes, he said the NHAI norms did not prescribe it.
While reaching an OMT agreement with the NHAI, the CTPL had handed over a bank guarantee worth Rs. 11.50 crore. “If we default on any count, the NHAI can forfeit this amount. This has not been done because of their delay in issuing the OMT notification,” said Mr. Reddy.
Referring to how the NHAI maintains other highways in the country, Mr. Reddy said only 4,000 km was covered by OMT agreements. “The NHAI or BOT contractor maintains other NH corridors. In Kochi, the NHAI must maintain it till the day that the stretch is handed over to us.”
The District Collector, using his magisterial powers, had recently threatened to slap criminal charges against the NHAI for its indifference to maintaining the bypass in good condition.
The State Public Works Department had also threatened to take over the stretch, with the NHAI evading responsibility.