Tuesday, July 16, 2024

4-laning at the speed of misery

Nineteen long years ago, in 2003, the then Prime Minister of the country Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Nagaland and announced the 4-lane highway project to connect Dimapur and Kohima. Twelve years later, in 2015, the project was finally given the seal of approval by the Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways. Same year, on November 3, the Union Minister for Road, Transport, Highways and Shipping, Nitin Gadkari came to Dimapur and announced that the project would be divided into three phases – with each phase allotted a time-frame of 3 years to complete the construction. He also informed that the first phase would cover a length of 14.935 km, the second phase another 13.715 km and the last phase had 14.210 km coverage. The contract for the first two phases went to the joint venture of Ramky-ECI. The final phase, initially, was awarded to Gayatri Projects Limited. That was seven years ago and today we find that the 4-lane highway project has been paved with controversies – embarrassment after embarrassment for all involved in the project: Central, State agencies and construction firms. Collective exasperation of the citizenry had prompted the Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court to take suo moto cognisance and introduce a public interest litigation (PIL) in October 2019. To the Government authorities and the construction firms, subsequent Court hearings have taken the guise of an endless stream of reproach. But it appears some skins are thicker after all. The Court has heard the case on 37 occasions already. In April this year, it pulled up the Government agencies and the Contractors for the “tardy progress” of the project. It has already upheld the decision of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) to terminate the contract awarded to Gayatri Projects Limited due to the delay in work. The Chandigarh-based Oasis Technocons Limited has swooped in as replacement firm. In May, the Court imposed a penalty of Rs 2 lakh on Ramky-ECI for its repeated failures to keep its commitment to complete the project within specific periods. “This PIL was taken up in October 2019 when it came to our knowledge that the project which was to be completed in the month of September 2019 has not been completed, considering the inconveniences and difficulties faced by the commuters. Ever since this PIL was taken up, directions after directions were issued for completion of the project within the timeline given; and commitments for compliance were also given by the contractor. However, time after time the contractor has failed to keep the commitments made”, it had ruled then. While the Court hearings continued, the Western Angami Public Organisation (WAPO) shot off a letter to the then Deputy Commissioner of Kohima in June this year. In its letter, WAPO made it clear that its patience was running out and the general public of the area has been suffering enough since the 4-lane project began. It warned that the people were on the verge of resorting to agitation in order to ensure the completion of the project. Promptings, persuasions, threats of agitation: none has produced the desired result though. Even at the latest hearing held on September 22, the Court was explicit in its observation that there was “zero progress” in all the 3 phases of the 4-lane project since the last hearing. It observed that the authorities appear to be “sleeping over the matter despite the lackadaisical approach” of Contractors towards completing all three phases of the project. Maintaining that it was taking “a very serious note there has been zero progress in all the three packages”, the Court ordered the Executive Director of NHIDCL Nagaland, the General Manager of PMU Dimapur and the Managing Director of Oasis Project Limited to appear in person before the Court on Wednesday, September 28, at 10.30 a.m. Regardless of the final outcome of the ongoing Court hearings, we already know what ingredient has been used for so many years to pave the 4-lane road: the misery of a long-suffering public.