As Uttar Pradesh government aims to add over 750 km of expressways, costing Rs 42,000 crore, in the next one-and-a-half years, UP Additional Chief Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) Awanish Kumar Awasthi speaks to Maulshree Seth about the project deadlines, impact of Covid and the challenges ensuring road safety.
For the past few years, expressway projects have been the focus of successive governments in Uttar Pradesh. At present, work on three ambitious expressway projects is underway. What is the progress of these projects?
We started the Purvanchal Expressway project in October 2018. Till date, we have completed 56 per cent of the project work. Despite the onset of Covid pandemic, we are still ahead of our schedule, which was to complete the project in 36 months. We are in 23rd month now and have completed 56 per cent of the project that includes 87.11 per cent of the earthwork.
Chief Minister (Yogi Adityanath) is personally reviewing the projects and has set deadlines.
Regarding Bundelkhand Expressway project, we have completed 16 per cent of the work in six months, which is again ahead of the schedule as the target was to complete 10 per cent of the work in six months. Just 5 per cent of the land acquisition remains for the project.
For Gorakhpur-Link Expressway project, about 90 per cent of the land has been acquired. The progress is three to four per cent. Since it is a flood-hit area, therefore the work was affected. The work will pick up speed by the end of September.
Work on these projects was put on hold for few months due to the pandemic. How much has it affected the deadline?
The Covid pandemic pushed us back by at least three months, and that too the most important months for construction works, which are March, April and May. Despite the Covid outbreak, we are ahead of our schedule.
In the case of Purvanchal Expressway project, the original deadline was April-May 2021. Chief Minister Adityanath had earlier set the deadline to complete the carriageway by November 14, 2020 to coincide with Diwali. But because of the Covid, a new deadline of January 26, 2021 has now been set, which again is ahead of the original schedule.
For Bundelkhand Expressway project, the Chief Minister has set the deadline of 27 months. The target is to complete the expressway by December 2021 or January 22 – the fastest in the country.
Purvanchal Expressway will be the first one to be completed. However, it is being claimed that a large section of the land for the project was acquired by the previous government.
Purvanchal Expressway project is a greenfield project and as I said it will be the backbone of the Purvanchal region. It will not just connect the Purvanchal region to Lucknow, but also provide a faster road link to the National Capital Region (NCR). Moreover, even people in adjoining districts of Bihar are preferring road route over the rail route to reach Delhi as it takes less time. So the expressway will provide much faster connectivity to districts in Bihar also. As far as land is concerned, only 32 per cent of the land was acquired for the project and the tender was cancelled several times (in the previous government).
Today, we have acquired the entire land required for the main carriageway. Fresh tender for the project was issued at less than 5 per cent of the original cost. By doing so, we were able to save Rs 600 crore. Moreover, in the Bundelkhand expressway projects, we were able to reduce the cost without affecting the quality by Rs 1,200 crore.
You call the Purvanchal Expressway the backbone of not just eastern Uttar Pradesh but also of neighbouring regions of Bihar. Similarly, it is being claimed that Bundelkhand expressway will benefit neighbouring regions in Madhya Pradesh.
Yes, it is true. Not just for people of east UP but even for Bihar, this route (Purvanchal Expressway) will be used in the future for faster connectivity to the National Capital (Delhi).
Moreover, we have come to know that even the Bihar government is planning to build an expressway-like road, connecting Patna to Ballia in Uttar Pradesh. So once Purvanchal Expressway is complete and with the existing Lucknow-Agra Expressway and Yamuna Expressway, it will become a high-speed corridor for not just the people of Uttar Pradesh but for all of north India.
Similarly, Bundelkhand Expressway will provide faster connectivity to Delhi to not just the people in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh but also of Madhya Pradesh through existing expressways.
Once completed, even Gorakhpur-Link Expressway will reduce the travel time between Gorakhpur and Lucknow to just two and half hours.
What is the total cost of these ongoing projects and how much amount of loan has been taken to complete these projects?
We are currently handling projects worth Rs 42,000 crore. These include Purvanchal Expressway with an estimated cost of Rs 22,000 crore, Bundelkhand Expressway with an estimated cost of Rs 15,000 crore and Gorakhpur-Link Expressway that has a budget of Rs 5,800 crore.
For Purvanchal Expressway, 70 per cent of the cost will be met through loans and the remaining 30 per cent through state government funds. We have got bank’s support of Rs 12,000 crore. The loan has been given to us at the lowest possible rate, which is 6 months of MCLR (marginal cost of lending rate) that comes to around 7.15 per cent. For Bundelkhand Expressway, we have taken a loan of about Rs 5,900 crore.
Apart from these three ongoing expressway projects, the UP government has also announced the 560 km-long Ganga Expressway project between Meerut and Prayagraj. What is its status?
Land acquisition proposals (for the project) are ready. It is the dream project of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and was declared during (2019) Kumbh. First, we will start land acquisition, then we will find the mechanism for financing the project. This year we will start the process of acquiring land for the expressway project and we also start the process of bidding. We hope to get it cleared by March next year and hope to start the work in the next financial year.
There were complaints about land acquisition in previous expressway projects and inquiries were ordered. Have those factors being taken into consideration so that such things are not repeated?
In the last three years, the circle rate has not been increased in any district just because of the expressways. This puts a stop to the tendency of giving benefit to a third party. Moreover, landowners have become aware.
Uttar Pradesh already has two expressways — Yamuna Expressway and Lucknow-Agra Expressway — and now it is planning to add four more to the existing network. Are there any lessons learnt for future modifications?
With the network of expressways in place, the challenge before us is to ensure safety on the roads. In the Lucknow-Agra Expressway, our challenge is safety. We have put a lot of things in place. We have put an agency for keeping the expressway free of animals, rumblers have been put in place and ambulances have been deployed to save the golden hours.
We have installed extremely good cameras on the expressway and anyone who crosses the road in less than three hours is automatically issued challans. These challans have brought down the accidents by 50 per cent but still, we are having accidents as traffic on this expressway is very high. Our challenge will always be road safety and that we are trying to resolve.
Once all the expressways are in place, how will the government overcome this challenge to keep the roads safe?
The government is actively considering putting a highway patrol force in place. There is also a project of the World Bank. We are in discussion with the Public Works Department and soon the Chief Minister will take a decision in this regard. There will be a separate wing of security personnel created from the Uttar Pradesh Police force for it. We also got a safety audit done by Central Road Research Institute last year and they made some recommendations. While some have been implemented, other measures are being considered.
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