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Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane project hangs fire amid alleged irregularities

The 84-km long Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane project is one among four contiguous projects being carried out by the NHAI to widen the crucial Chandigarh-Manali road from Kiratpur in Punjab to Kullu in Himachal and cut down the distance between these two places.

Written by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon | Shimla | December 13, 2020 10:49:17 am
Work in progress on the Parwanoo-Shimla four-lane project near Solan in Himachal Pradesh. Photos: Jaipal Singh

An ongoing inquiry regarding alleged deviation in the Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-laning work has stalled the project, which had already witnessed multiple setbacks over the years. Following Centre’s directions, the Himachal Pradesh government is probing whether the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has deviated from its approved road plan while carrying out four-laning work on the proposed highway.

Work on the project from Kiratpur near the Punjab-Himachal border to Nerchowk in Mandi district via Bilaspur started in November 2013 and was expected to be completed in three years. However, it was delayed due to financial crunch and finally abandoned by the concessionaire company in 2018. The NHAI later resumed the work in two phases – “brownfield alignment” on which the existing road had to be widened, and a 47 km-stretch of “greenfield alignment” falling in Bilaspur district, which had be to built afresh.

While work on the brownfield alignment is underway, the greenfield alignment which falls in Bilaspur district is mired in allegations of irregularities. In 2018, a local organisation of people affected by the project complained to the union ministry of environment and forest alleging illegal diversion of around 75 hectares of forest land into the project and dumping of muck in the forest land.

Acting on the complaint, forest officials inspected the site and found that NHAI had, in fact, deviated from the approved road alignment plan at six places and thus, violated the Forest Conservation Act. It had also illegally dumped muck in the forests. NHAI was fined and asked to restore the forest land, and the divisional forest officer asked the district authorities to probe similar allegations in other parts of the proposed road.

Then in June this year, the ministry ordered the closure of any further construction on the road and subsequently, a district-level committee was formed to examine if NHAI had deviated from the approved road alignment, land acquisition and layout plans while constructing the highway. Work on the brownfield alignment resumed, but the greenfield continues to remain under probe.

Madan Lal, general secretary of the Four Lane Visthapit and Prabhavit Samiti, said that the original road plans are not being provided to the inquiry committee due to which the probe is hanging fire. He also alleged that NHAI made several discrepancies while preparing the site maps after land acquisition due to which the affected land-owners may later suffer. “The illegally dumped muck has not been removed, and several houses in the area were damaged during the blasting operations,” he added.

NHAI project director Naveen Mishra, however, denied the allegations and said that work on the greenfield part of the highway is expected to start within a few months. “There has been no deviation on 45 of the 47 kilometres in the greenfield. Where it may have occurred, we will prepare a realignment plan for approval. The tendering process has already been completed and the contractor is expected to complete the project in 30 months after taking over the site,” he said, adding that 50 per cent of the brownfield alignment is complete.

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