Bowing to pressure from the State and elected representatives, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has agreed in principle to reduce the width of 829 km of national highways (NHs) being developed from 45 metres to 30 metres.

As a result, the 669-km NH-66 stretch from Thalapady to Kaliyikavila on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border and the 160-km NH-544 stretch from Walayar to Edapally being developed under the National Highway Development Project (NHDP) will be limited to four-lane roads.

Opposition from those to be displaced, prohibitive cost of acquiring land, controversies over alignment, and pressure exerted by MPs and legislators had upset the plans to convert the 829 km of highways into six-lane roads.

Official sources told The Hindu that the move was to limit the road width to 30 metres and avoid the massive land acquisition that was needed if the width were 60 metres as in the case of other NHDP projects in the country. In densely populated and busy stretches, the proposal of elevated highways had been suggested to the State to ensure free flow of traffic.

The willingness to limit the width to 30 metres was conveyed by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Oscar Fernandes to Minister for Public Works V.K. Ebrahim Kunju in New Delhi on Saturday.

The meeting was a follow-up to the meeting held in July in the State capital by Mr. Fernandes to discuss the development of NHs in the State. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had been opposing the move to reduce the width of the NHs over the years, despite it being taken up through several forums by successive Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front governments in the State.

However, the Rs.750-crore four-lane project of the 43-km Kazhakuttam-Inchivila NH-66 bypass will be taken up by the NHAI under the build, operate and transfer (BOT) concept, as it has already been approved as a package.

Mr. Kunju told The Hindu that Mr. Fernandes had taken a positive stand in view of the special circumstances in Kerala and opposition to land acquisition. “It was not practical to begin work after acquiring the land needed for a width of 45 metres. Now, the stretches will be developed with minimum displacement as much land need not be acquired,” he said.

The Union Minister is to make a presentation soon in this regard to expedite the NHDP projects in the State and the elevated highway that had been proposed to the MPs and the Public Works Minister in Delhi, sources said.

The State has demanded that the 167.59-km Kundanoor-Bodimettu (NH-85); 81.28-km Kollam-Aryankavu (NH-744); 117-km Kozhikode-Muthanga (NH-766); 125.3-km Kozhikode-Palakkad (NH-966); and 189-km Kollam-Kumily (NH-183) roads should be excluded from the NHDP.

The State is of the view that these NH stretches were two-lane ones and offered a good ride; only shoulder improvement was needed.

The State is also demanding financial assistance for developing these roads from the Union Ministry and maintaining them without collecting toll.

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