After being off the priority list for much of this year, the Centre is pulling all stops to clear highway projects in the politically sensitive state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
In February, four mega highway projects in the northern state, worth a whopping Rs 11,700 crore, were cleared by the Centre. Contrast this with just one project falling in Uttar Pradesh that was cleared by an appraisal panel since the beginning of the current fiscal.
The value of Uttar Pradesh-based road projects cleared in February, practically the last working month for the UPA government ahead of the enforcement of the model code of conduct, goes up to nearly Rs 18,000 crore if the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), which passes through Ghaziabad and was cleared by the Cabinet last month, is clubbed with the other highway projects cleared in the state.
Till February this fiscal, the EPE was the only project cleared by the Public-Private Partnership Appraisal committee (PPPAC), that too in January. Uttar Pradesh is a key state considering that it sends the highest number of members to the Lok Sabha and has a number of high-profile constituencies, including those of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi.
Interestingly, the list of projects cleared include a Rs 1,376 crore project for upgrading the stretch from Tanda to Banda in the state that traverses the constituencies of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Punjab and Rajasthan were distant second and third, with approvals worth Rs 2,435 crore and Rs 822 crore, respectively in February.
Between April 2013 and January 2014, the Centre cleared projects worth about Rs 44,300 crore. Of this, only one — the EPE — passed through Uttar Pradesh. Of the total projects cleared in the state in February, the Cabinet cleared projects worth Rs 7,624 crore (including the EPE) in two of its meetings held during the course of the month and the PPPAC approved the rest in its meeting on the last day of February.
Projects entailing investments of over Rs 500 crore are cleared by the PPPAC and the proposals are then forwarded to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. In contrast, the Cabinet did not clear any road project for other states during the month.
Of the six highway projects cleared by the PPPAC on February 28, three are for Uttar Pradesh, two for Punjab and one for Rajasthan.
The six road projects approved by PPPAC covers 858 km and to be built at a cost of Rs 13,560 crore — projects in Uttar Pradesh to cost Rs 10,303 crore. Of the three approved projects, one is the Delhi-Meerut Expressway and the other two projects are to connect Varanasi from Sultanpur and Ghaghar Bridge near the Indo-Nepal Border. Varanasi is represented in the Lok Sabha by senior Bhartiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
The projects cleared by the Cabinet are the Rs 6,248 crore worth Eastern Peripheral Expressway. The 135-km EPE will connect Palwal, Ghaziabad and Kundli. A senior official in the road department of Uttar Pradesh said that it is good that so many road projects are being cleared.
“The stretches cleared by the PPPAC were a long pending demand from eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is infrastructure-starved. I would not like to comment on the reasons but it is good that the Centre has sped up approvals for road projects in the state,” he said.
February’s utilisation was not just limited to approval for road projects.
The Cabinet also approved conversion of 7,200 km of state highways into national highways.
As compared to this, the country, during the last 10 years, saw only about 10,000 km of state highways being declared as national highways. Of the total conversions, Uttar Pradesh got 352 km, which is higher than Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, among others.