Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday indicated that acquiring defence land was the most difficult process, and said that armed forces were causing maximum delays in highway construction or expansion. He also recounted an incident where armed forces personnel threatened a contractor with guns and stalled work despite all permissions being in place.
Gadkari’s statement came after Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant, during Question Hour in Lok Sabha, raised a question on encroachment on the Nagpur-Kamptee highway in Maharashtra.
In response, Gadakri said, “It is a very interesting case. I feel sad to be sharing this. Now there is a compound wall of the Kamptee camp that belongs to defence. So if there is a compound wall, then that is the limit of your claim. Rest is National Highway land. But defence has stalled the entire project for one year now.”
The minister said that the matter was settled after he presented photographs and a series of meetings were held in Delhi. “They said ‘Okay, go ahead’. When the work started, gun-toting men from the maintenance command of the camp came and scared away the contractor. I have told (Defence Minister) Rajnath Singh everything and the matter is pending with him for the past one and a half months… I will again remind him. But I assure you all encroachment would be eventually removed and work will get done,” Gadkari said.
He even seemed to suggest that there was bureaucratic lethargy in moving things fast. “He (Rajnath) tells his bureaucrats that whatever Gadkari ji is saying, do it. But sometimes, the kettle is hotter than the tea. The officials below you sometimes do not listen,” Gadkari said.
Further elaborating on his frustration with matters related to defence land acquisition, Gadkari also recounted the difficulties he had faced during the construction of the Dhaula Kuan flyover in Delhi.
“Acquiring defence land… just getting this Dhaula Kuan land (for the flyover) was so difficult… I cannot tell you what all me and (former defence minister Manohar) Parrikar ji had to go through. Somewhere or the other, they put roadblocks,” Gadkari said.
The minister added that such delays make project costs skyrocket. “All of you are MPs here. Please see what is stalling road projects in your respective constituencies…”
When Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury pointed out that Gadkari’s statements indicated that there was no coordination between different government departments, the minister said he was not criticising anyone.
“I am only saying that the country needs a positive attitude and approach from everybody. Look what electricity and telephone people do. The moment you complete the road, the telephone people will dig it up. Even if there is a four-lane space on the side of the road, the electricity department will put its pole on the edge of the two-lane road. No one thinks that if there is space, put it up at the edge of it so that no shifting is required. Utility shifting costs money,” Gadkari said.