Did the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) play a hide and seek game with the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi?
Amidst much fanfare the NHAI invited the Prime Minister to lay the foundation stone of the non-existent Eastern Peripheral Expressway and Western Peripheral Expressways pockmarked with potholes and speed-breakers in the form of massive delays and project cost overruns on Nov 5, 2015.
The access controlled high-speed Expressway is more than nine years late. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway is lying in abeyance for the past five years due to controversies related to land acquisition, environmental clearances, and rates. While the Western Expressway project managed to see the light of the day, the Eastern Expressway project still exists only in files.
The worst part of the joke is that NHAI does not own the entire lands along the 135-km long stretch where the Eastern Expressway is supposed to be built.
As things stand today, no actual road building activity has started at the beginning or end of the expressway. God alone knows when the Expressway will see the light of the day, if at all. The entire stretch of land has not even been acquired, and the small and marginal farmers owning the land along the way are in no mood to part with their only ancestral possession.
“You don’t invite the Prime Minister to come and have dinner in a neighbor’s house — that you don’t own and that too without his consent”, says Kartar Singh former Pradhan of Duhai who still holds physical possession of the land and pays electricity bills on the premises which the NHAI claims to own.
“The basic drawback with the project is that the compensation paid to the farmers is totally unsatisfactory… it is very less.”, says Pawan Sharma a Modinagar based builder who has been making many representations to NHAI since 2006.
“NHAI does not have physical possession of even an inch of land from Kundli to Palwal. No work has started on the ground. They have just changed the status of possession in the revenue records by influencing the DMs. Even while doing so they have not taken NoC from the actual owner. This is a clear violation of the law. It is entirely illegal”, he adds.
Clearly all this amounts to a significant fraud being played with the Prime Minister. The NHAI’s move to make the PM inaugurate the highway was nothing but a tamasha or public relations exercise to show that the PM himself is lending his weight behind the project.
In reality, the NHAI wants to blackmail farmers who are not yet ready to part with their prized ownership to give up possession to NHAI. NHAI has no fixed compensation rate and has been offering different rates to different people depending on their “inside connections” or bargaining power. The loser, in any case, is the small and marginal farmer who does not have the required bargaining skills or proxy representation at the highest levels.
“The problem is that the poor farmers don’t have the time energy or inclination to fight against the government and give up fight midway,” says Pavan Sharma.
A case in point is Dhoom Manikpur in Greater Noida where the first set of farmers were paid Rs 1740/sq meter, and the next lot got Rs 3000 per sqm while Amrit Steel owned by the more influential group were offered Rs 5500 per sqm for their land in the same district in 2014. If this trend is to continue, what rate should the remaining set of farmers should be paid in 2015 considering the cost escalation and rise in prices of everything?
All this amounts to fraud as the good office of the Prime Minister is being misused to blackmail farmers and industrialists to part with their land.
“I have had enough. I am sick and tired now. I don’t care if my colleges are demolished because I will, in any case, get enough compensation that will last many generations”, says a broken Mahendra Aggarwal, Chairman, Sunderdeep Group of Institutions who has been fighting a pitched battle with the NHAI for the last around eight years. The Sunderdeep Group incidentally owns 11 colleges offering courses like Engineering, Pharma, Nutrition and Architecture.
Mahendra Aggarwal is happy to get the compensation but what will happen to the fate of the 5000 odd students who have enrolled in various courses in his colleges. ”I will, in any case, get my money but what answer will I give to a student in the second year of a five-year course why the college was suddenly demolished and raised to the ground? He asks.
The issue is not whether institutions like Sunderdeep, Ideal Engineering College, Hindon River Mills or Sir Chotu Ram Inter-college should be bulldozed and raised to the ground or not but should the PM’s name be misused to force people to give up possession of their land well below the circle rate or the lowest government rate? Can there be two different rates fixed by the government for acquiring or selling land?
This defeats the whole purpose as highways are supposed to be built to settle people and improve their quality of life- not to uproot and unsettle their lives and the future of their children.
A roof over the head and the right to live peacefully within the confines one’s home and to carry out one’s business or profession within the ambit of law is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution of India and other International Conventions.
NHAI cannot disown responsibility for this misconduct on its part, but the Prime Minister’s office also cannot absolve itself of the responsibility of allowing the PM to inaugurate something that does not exist on the ground.
“The PMO too should have done their homework to verify whether what the PM was going to inaugurate was likely to take off soon or was just a blind man’s bluff,” remarked Vijay Sanghvi, a seasoned political commentator.
Anyway, what difference does it make as the roads NHAI builds don’t last many seasons? They are “killer ways” not highways?