Standoff between NHAI and govt. holds up projects worth over Rs. 9,300 crore

It is not just the elevated expressway to the Chennai port that is the subject of a dispute between the National Highways Authority of India and the State government. They are at loggerheads over several projects.

National Highway projects worth over Rs. 9,300 crore running to a length of 1,037 km across the State have been delayed due to various reasons including slow pace of land acquisition, non-grant of permission to quarry material such as sand and earth and stoppage of work or withdrawal of NOC by the Public Works Department.

“We have been continuously raising these issues with the State government but to no avail. Meetings happen without any result. In other States, there are State Support Agreements and the governments are bound by the conditions. But here there is no agreement. The agreement is also a requirement for the successful implementation of projects under Public Private Partnership mode as lending institutions insist on it as a pre-condition for release for funds,” said a source in the National Highways Authority of India.

A total of 2,614 hectares of land are required for these projects as on May 31, 2013, and the awards for these lands are yet to be passed for both ongoing projects and projects to be taken up soon. “New norms stipulate that 80 per cent of the land must be under possession before award of contracts. Though 60 units dedicated to land acquisition are functioning in the State, the time taken for various processes under the NH Act 1956 including holding an inquiry, passing awards, disbursing compensation and taking possession of land is abnormal,” said a source.

A project to widen the Dindigul-Theni-Kumili is yet to be completed. “The 135-km long road work was scheduled to be completed this month. However, only 80 km has been widened into two lanes with paved shoulders. Land acquisition for 55 km has not progressed in the last two years. Similarly, land acquisition for the Chennai Port-Maduravoyal project is also at a standstill for two years now,” explained an official source.

Another area of concern is the denial of permissions for burrow area. “We are being denied permissions. The Mines and Geology Department does not even receive applications from contractors. The cost of mud is at least 4-5 times more than the actual cost. Due to this the project cost shoots up. For laying one km of road we require 40,000 cubic metre of earth. One load of mud costs around Rs. 1,500 and contains 10–15 cubic metre. We pay Rs.100 more to the middle men,” said a concessionaire, who did not want to be named.

For the Chennai-Tirupathi road widening project, the concessionaire who has completed the work in the Andhra Pradesh side is yet to take up work on the Tiruvallur bypass due to delay in burrow area permission. “They completed around 30 km of work on the Tamil Nadu side as they brought earth from Andhra. But that cannot be continued as the work in that State has been completed,” said an NHAI source.

The standoff between NHAI and the state government may mean that further projects worth Rs. 15,000 crore and 1,745 km of roads may be in jeopardy. Contractors are already not coming forward to take up NHAI projects in the state.

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