Does NHAI have a right to demolish what it cannot build?
By Neeraj Mahajan
The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) was in a tearing hurry to complete the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE). It forced NHAI to forget its road signs hurry leads to worry and better late than never.
It was also one of the priority projects of the United Progressive Alliance government (UPA) which had set a deadline of 31 December 2013 for the completion of the project- something it could never fulfill. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway is being implemented by National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and being monitored by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India.
The Supreme Court of India had ordered the construction of the two 135-km long expressways forming a ring road outside the capital and diverting non-Delhi bound traffic— vide order passed on 11 February 2005.
The whole idea behind the construction of the eastern and western peripheral expressways was to decongest and reduce pollution in the Delhi.
But despite all good intentions, the western peripheral expressway was aborted when it was still 40% incomplete while the eastern peripheral expressway proved to be a non-starter.
The Eastern Peripheral Expressway was initially expected to be complete by 2010 but as things stand it is not likely to see the light of the day till least July 2018.
As a result, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had on many occasions been pulled up by the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court for the delay in construction of the project.
The apex court, in particular, came down heavily on the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), asking it to start the project at the earliest. A three-judge bench comprising of former Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, and justices Arun Mishra and A.K. Goel “refused to extend the time” any further for the NHAI to complete the project.
NHAI’s lawyer Indu Malhotra sought more time, but the court asked the authority to borrow “money from the central government” or the World Bank so as to finish the project on or before 30 July 2018.
One of the important factors contributing to the delay is avoidable litigations and disputes over the physical land acquisition. The main reason is that many small and medium farmers in Sonepat, Palwal, Faridabad, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar are unhappy at the manner in which their lands are being forcibly acquired and the manner in which varying amounts of compensation is being distributed for similar property in different districts.
According to informed sources, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has draconian powers for land acquisition under the National Highway (NH) Act, which has been grossly misused to bypass any objection filed by the actual land owner. For instance, one of the provision in the National Highway (NHAI) Act is that the land once notified to be acquired cannot be denotified. As a result, even if at a later date it is discovered that either a piece of land not required or excess land was acquired– it cannot be released back to the owner.
“This amounts to a right to make mistakes and keep compounding them without any remedial measures,” said a lawyer who did not wish to be quoted.
As a result of all this, the initial cost of constructing the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) which was projected to be Rs 2,676 crores has now been revised to Rs 5,763.10 Cr. By the time the project is complete, this might cross Rs 7,558 crore. Can the public sector NHAI which is reportedly already suffering from a loss of over 86.97 crore bear this burden?
The main objective behind the construction of the expressways was to decongest Delhi, ease traffic congestion and obviate extreme air pollution in the city. As on date, thousands of trucks pass through Delhi, to reach Uttar Pradesh or Haryana.
It will pass through five districts — Sonipat, Faridabad in Haryana and Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar and Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh.
But the moot question is should development and decongestion of Delhi – mean death penalty for people of UP & Haryana?