For the villagers of Nanduki, the shiny stretch of tar, its dividers freshly painted, is a surreal showpiece.
Scores of truckers — on their way to and from Delhi — are lured to this “expressway” every day from Tauru in Haryana’s Mewat only to find that this dream ride lasts for just about 8 km, 15 minutes and a shout-out from Nanduki residents: “The road ends here, you need to go back.”
That’s a bumpy welcome to the Western Expressway, one of the two peripheral roads proposed by authorities 12 years ago to divert the estimated 80,000 diesel-belching trucks that pass through Delhi every night. As for the other — Eastern Expressway — work is yet to begin.
And, at a time when vehicular pollution in Delhi has reached record levels — an investigation by The Indian Express revealed that the deadly dust called respirable suspended particulate material (RSPM) has reached 316 micrograms per cubic metre, almost 16 times what’s normal — the poison emitted by these trucks enters the air when you are most vulnerable, in the middle of the night.
Not that authorities are ignorant of this.
‘BEG, BORROW, STEAL, BUT BUILD’
The National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), governed by the Union Urban Development Ministry with representatives from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, predicted in its regional plan-2021 that 6.4 million tonnes of goods would be transported by 2032 in NCR — and, crucially, this does not include trips “bypassing NCR”.
“The cost of not building the Western and Eastern expressways has been huge in terms of the deterioration of the quality of air in Delhi,” said Naini Jayaseelan, who was the NCRPB member secretary from 2000-06.
So what happened?
“The Western Peripheral Expressway is about 68 per cent complete and Eastern Peripheral Expressway is yet to take off,” the Delhi government told the Supreme Court on January 17, citing the previous Haryana government’s admission, in its plea to push the project.
If that sounded like a cruel joke, here’s the punchline: the Delhi government told the court that it has paid its counterpart in Haryana Rs 653.5 crore to construct the Western Expressway “with no envisaged benefits so far”.
In the case of the Eastern Expressway, the National Highways Authority of India admitted in court it had not even called for tenders to start construction. It cited a number of reasons for this delay: the project being reworked multiple times; an existing debate over whether the states or the Centre would acquire land for the road; and source of funding, again Centre or states.
This is how the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, responded: “You (NHAI) beg, borrow and steal money from the Central Government and start constructing (the) road. Pollution level is rising and due to it, more children will be hospitalised.”
TWO STATES WRAPPED IN RED TAPE
It’s the muddle surrounding the Western Expressway — being built by Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) — that exposes how projects such as these get bogged down in red tape.
“This is the only project where one state paid the other to have expressways constructed within its own limits. In hindsight, things would have been much swifter and easier if we had constructed the expressways ourselves, and kept them closer to Delhi, instead of pushing them to the periphery,” said a former environment secretary of Delhi, who did not wish to be named but was involved in discussions on the project with Haryana and the Environmental Pollution and Control Authority (EPCA).
The mess spilled out into the open during the Supreme Court hearing in January, eight years after EPCA requested in a note that the bench should order the completion of the projects “within 2-3 years… at the outside limit”.
The Delhi government told the court: “Having given its commitment to the project almost 10 years ago, Delhi is bearing the brunt of both continued movement of transit traffic, its hazards and resultant pollution as well as the repeated demands for release of additional funds for the expressways.”
Haryana, meanwhile, reiterated a claim made repeatedly by the previous Congress-led government that 60 per cent of work was complete, and blamed the roadblock on delay in land acquisition. But two weeks later, it told the court that the earlier submission was wrong and that the new BJP government would issue fresh tenders.
Directing the government to complete re-tendering within two months, the court responded: “You have made a wonderful statement. We see today that nothing was being done. Where were your engineers?”
In the same hearing, EPCA said that Haryana had been pushing back the deadline from 2005 to 2008 to 2012 to 2014 and now 2016.
One major reason for the delay, according to Haryana’s submissions in court, involved a penalty it imposed on the concessionaire for escalating costs. The concessionaire had approached the Supreme Court, saying the costs rose due to the delay in land acquisition.
On January 30, the court finally directed Haryana to start the construction with fresh tenders within three months, directing that the discord with the old concessionaire be resolved separately and not stall the project further.
The court ruled: “Today, we are only concerned with starting of this expressway and completion of this expressway. People are suffering, let them not suffer more.”
THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
In 2003, Environmental Pollution and Control Authority first suggested two peripheral roads adjoining Delhi to cut pollution from the number of vehicles, particularly goods trucks, which pass through the capital.
In 2005, the Supreme Court gave the green signal for the idea.
In 2006, plans were drawn for the construction of two expressways, each about 135 km long. The Eastern Peripheral Expressway envisages signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Greater Noida and Palwal, and the Western Expressway aims to connect Kundli to Palwal via Manesar in Haryana.
The Delhi government was asked to bear 50 per cent cost of the Rs 844-crore project. But the total project cost has now been revised to Rs 3,589.56 crore.
13.2mn person trips
Intra-region travel demand in 2032, as estimated by NCR Planning Board in its regional plan-2021. This will be up from 3.63mn person trips in 2007.
The report’s prediction for goods to be transported in NCR by 2032, excluding trips bypassing NCR.