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Satyam fiasco affects NH-68 works

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Slow progress: Only a few workers are seen working on the Salem-Attur sector of National Highways - 68.
Slow progress: Only a few workers are seen working on the Salem-Attur sector of National Highways - 68.

R. Ilangovan

Delay is more conspicuous in the segment where Reliance is involved

SALEM: The 136-km-long project of four-laning the existing two-lane National Highways – 68, which connects Kerala with Chennai through the industrial towns of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode and Salem in the western region of Tamil Nadu, is progressing at a snail’s pace.

The reason: Satyam fiasco.

The Rs. 941-crore corridor project, taken up during January 2008 on BOT package, is being executed in two segments – first by the Reliance Energy Limited, Mumbai (0-62 km) and second by the Oriental Structural Engineering Limited (62-136 km). The date of completion is January 15, 2011, about which even those concerned with the project sound sceptical.

Till February 11, 2009, a clear 13 months after its start, the physical cumulative achievement of the entire project stands at a mere 8.75 per cent as against the cumulative target of 11 per cent while the cumulative financial achievement is just 8.97 per cent as against the target of 11.45 per cent.

A travel down the Highways today is nightmarish. Of the five major bridges, two are in the preliminary stage of construction while of 27 minor ones, two have been completed. Not a stone has been turned so far for the execution of three road overbridges (ROB) and a fly-over. Of the 25 underpasses, five have been completed. Even earthwork for the entire stretch is to be taken up. The delay is more conspicuous in the segment where Reliance is involved. It has named ‘Salem Ulundurpet Toll Road Private Limited,’ as its Concessionaire and awarded its execution to Maytas Infra Limited, linked to the promoters of Satyam group, which possesses necessary resources and expertise. Maytas’ contract value is Rs. 400 crore with a completion period of 27 months.

But the fiasco has cast a shadow over its progress. Field workers and technical staff of Maytas told The Hindu that they had been undergoing the pangs of ‘uncertainty’ about their future with no proper communication from their bosses.

“Many have left,” said a worker near Vazhapadi.

A technical executive claims that the project had suffered only an ‘insignificant delay’. “Works have resumed now,” he says. A Reliance Energy official accepts that Satyam issue has impacted the progress.

The initial reaction of the Maytas workforce, he says, was that of despair. “In fact, we have to support them financially and more frequently now.”

He, however, sounds optimistic of ‘meeting the deadline’ once the lands are assigned. The National Highways Authority of India, the monitoring agency, has a limited role to play in such BOT projects. Its officials confine their role to the submitting of monthly progress reports to their head quarters.

Meanwhile, a team of top executives from Reliance Petroleum in Mumbai carried out a detailed inspection on the progress of their various road projects in Tamil Nadu, particularly of those entrusted with Maytas Infra, including the NH-68.

“Fortunately no serious setback has been noticed in these projects,” says the executive.

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