At a time the West Bengal government is at loggerhead with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for maintenance of national highways in the state, virtually all major projects of NHAI are on hold due to land acquisition problems.
NHAI reports accessed by The Indian Express reveal that the land acquisition process for a meagre 13.32 per cent of the total land required by the authority in Bengal is complete. But NHAI is yet to have any of the land in its possession, even though it has completed the distribution of compensation for 236.183 hectares.
The land required for five major NHAI projects including NH 34, NH 31, NH 31D, NH 6 and NH 2 is 1,771.642 hectares in 12 districts — North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24-Parganas, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Howrah, East Midnapore, West Midnapore and Burdwan. According to the reports, the state government issued notification in 2010-11 for 1,191.099 hectares.
The projects, however, are on hold for a year.
The NHAI — which fixes the compensation packages for land owners after discussion with the local administration and according to the current price of the land — disbursed the compensation to the land owners in these 12 districts for 236.183 hectares. However, the national agency is yet to get any land in its possession for implementing the projects.
“We have paid compensation for 236.183 hectares, but we are yet to get any land in our possession. The state government has issued notification for 1,191.099 hectares but we are yet to receive estimates for the compensation amount,” said a senior official of NHAI.
State PWD minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar said, “Land acquisition in Bengal is not as problematic as is portrayed by NHAI. The national agency plans its projects very slowly and then keep the projects on hold, claiming they are facing land disputes. Shifting the blame to the states is very easy, but the fact is that NHAI has problems in fund flows, which delay the projects. We have told them several times that if they are facing land issues, they can give the funds to us and we will implement the project. But they are not ready to give financial assistance.”
However, an NHAI official said, “All our projects depend on availability of land. Most of these projects were taken up in 2010-2011. But we could not start work in any of them. In the last year, we could only construct some bypass roads which added 65 km of road length to the existing structure.”
NH 31D, the “most ambitious” project of NHAI in Bengal and an important part of the East-West Corridor which will connect Siliguri to the Assam border, is still stuck because of land issues.
“We face serious legal problems with contractors. NHAI works on PPP model in which we provide the contract with the land and the contractors build the roads. We do not pay money to the contractors. We transfer the roads to the contractors and they operate the roads by collecting toll tax. But if the projects get stuck due the land acquisition issues, then we face legal problems as the contractors incur a huge loss,” added the NHAI official.
Ghosh Dastidar added that the PWD has taken projects to construct 141 new roads in 11 districts and work orders have been issued.