After the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) rejected Kerala Government proposal to develop national highway at a width of 30 meters, the Congress government in the state has decided to acquire land to develop the highways at a width of 45 meters.
While national highways elsewhere in the country have been developed into six-lane at a width of 60 meters, Kerala had earlier managed to alter the norms for the state to develop the highways into four-lane at a width of 45 meters.
After 100-km stretch along the NH 47 was developed into four-laned tolled highway, protest erupted in many places against land acquisition. Fearing loss of votes, political parties also offered tacit support for the agitations at the grassroots level. Due to stiff resistance from traders and land owners, the state government had suspended land acquisition several months back.
After the cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the state could not further delay the highways development debating over the width. Kerala government proposal to develop the highways at a width of 30 meters was rejected by the MORTH. If land is not acquired and handed over to the National Highway Authority of India, the state would be deprived of the highways development, said Chandy.
The Chief Minister said district collectors have been asked to speed land acquisition. Land owners would be offered attractive compensation package in which their properties would be taken at market rate. The National Highway Authority of India would go for further steps, including tendering of the work, only after 80 per cent of the land acquisition would be over.
The development of Kerala leg of two prominent national highways NH 17 and NH 47 has been long pending in the state. In 2009, an all-party meeting had decided to reduce the NH width in Kerala to 30 meters. The protest was mainly from north Kerala districts of Malappuram and Kozhikode, where Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League has been backing the agitators. However, the previous UPA government did not accept that political decision.
In the meantime, the State Public Works Department submitted a new project to the MORTH, seeking fund to develop national highways at a width of 30 meters. The state wanted to develop the highways as its responsibility, but wanted fund from the Central Government.
This proposal was not accepted, forcing the state to toe the MORTH directive to develop highways at 45 meters width.
If the latest decision has to be implemented, Kerala Government would be confronting an uphill task in land acquisition, fighting disputes in courts and providing compensation for the acquired land and demolished structures. The local body elections, slated for middle of next year, would be another challenge for the ruling Congress-led UDF in acquiring land for highway development.
A rough estimate shows that the state has to acquire around 3,400 acres of land for the proposed development of the two national highways. The cash-strapped state would have to find huge resources for compensation package.
In Kerala, real estate prices along the national highways have turned exorbitant. One cent of land along these highways would cost in the range of 5 lakh to 50 lakh across the state. Compensation would go up further considering the buildings which have to be demolished in the development drive.
Soon after the Chief Minister announced the decision on highway width, a co-ordination committee working against highways land acquisition said the government should desist from the move. “Highways can be developed at a width of 30 meters. We would not accept the new decision, which is meant for the lobby of the tolled highways,’’ said convener of the committee Hashim Chendampally.