SEEKING to flag the “development agenda” of the NDA government mirrored by the ruling SAD-BJP combine in poll-bound Punjab, Union Minister for Roads and Highways Nitin Gadkari announced plans for a Rs 60,000-crore Amritsar-Delhi high speed expressway that would reduce travel time between the two cities to a mere two and a half hours.
The expressway is to link Delhi-Amritsar-Katra (in Jammu), cutting the travel time on the 706-km Amritsar-Delhi stretch by four and a half hours from its present seven hours, Gadkari said.
The route will touch Jind, Barnala, Moga, Amritsar and Katra. The Minister said the foundation stone for the road will be laid down in January 2017, adding it would be a four-lane road to begin with, extendable to six.
He announced the planned expressway at rallies in both Jalandhar and Ludhiana. “We have presented the project before the respective states and will soon start the process of land acquisition,” he said.
Also, as part of the government’s planned push for an “economic corridor” for freight traffic, Gadkari disclosed plans for a new four-lane road between Jalandhar-Ajmer, a feeder route to the Ajmer-Mumbai national highway. The new road will cut travel time on the 508-km stretch between Jalandhar and Ajmer to five hours from the present 48 hours.
Gadkari made these two big ticket announcement in the presence of Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal and state BJP chief and Minister of State (MOS) Vijay Sampla in both cities.
Gadkari was on a one-day visit to Punjab for the foundation laying ceremony of 12 road projects — three each in Rupnagar and Ludhiana and six in Jalandhar, worth Rs 10,290 crore. In Ludhiana, he set down foundation stones of three projects worth Rs 3,212 crore, and in Jalandhar, for six projects worth over 4,500 crore. In Rupnagar, the combined worth of the three projects was over Rs 2,000 crore. The events were well advertised by the state government as “Big Day for Punjab Development”. Many of these 12 projects had been announced last year.
Gadkari said that in the last two years, work on road projects worth around Rs 30,000 crore was already going on in Punjab alone and by next three years, road infrastructure and highway projects worth around Rs 1.5 lakh crore would be carried out in the state.
He said 24 national highways were sanctioned for Punjab, out of which the foundation stone for 12 had been laid down today. The entire amount for the construction of these had been sanctioned as it is an election year, he said, adding the government would leave no stone unturned for the development of the state.
The Minister indicated toll taxes on high maintenance roads would continue. “We have lifted 64 toll tax barriers from roads worth less than Rs 100 crore. For the rest, taxes are continuing. I want to speak the truth: for good services, one needs to pay. Nothing comes for free.”
Taking a dig at AAP and PPCC president Captain Amarinder Singh, Gadkari said AAP could not take care of itself how will it take care of state and “people of Punjab have already rejected Captain twice due to the anti-Punjab policies of his party.
In pre-election generosity, he offered central assistance for ‘dry ports’, state bus stand on the lines of airports, and said logistic parks would be made along with the national highways for trucks.
About the felling of trees to construct the national highway, we are going to plant five crore plants along the national highway, he said.
He also announced two ROBs in Jalandhar at Dakoha and Dhannowali Railway crossings on the demand of BJP MLA Manoranjan Kalia and Phagwara-Hoshiarpur four-laning on the demand of Sampla.
Gadkari said “in India, travelling by river is the cheapest”. “We have made a project of connecting 111 water channels of India with water transport facility. Already, a project worth Rs 4,000 crore has started in Ganga.”
When asked about the water bus facility for Punjab — a prestigious project he had claimed would be started in the state in 2015 when he had come to Bathinda in January last year — both Gadkari and Sukhbir sidestepped the question
Sukhbir said, “Let us first concentrate on road projects as of now.”
He said the Centre had given large amounts of money for the development of Punjab.
“Before Lok Sabha polls in 2014, I had said the Modi government would send truckloads of money for development. Going by the projects which have been announced today, it seems a seaplane loaded with money has been sent to Punjab for development works,” Sukhbir said.
The Deputy Chief Minister boasted about the quality of reinforced concrete cement (RCC) roads being made in Punjab. “Even a bomb blast cannot damage such thick roads,” he added.
Sukhbir evaded all questions on the Congress protest in Vidhan Sabha and the shoe-throwing episode as he said he would first focus on road projects.