Land acquisition has been always been a problematic and long-drawn process in densely populated Kerala, and the NH widening project had been riddled by protesting landowners.
The LDF government in Kerala is rankled with the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) as the latter dropped its Rs 26,000-crore NH 66 expansion from its top priority list. This happened at a time when land acquisition for the project was going on in full throttle. The widening of the 590-km Kasargod-Thiruvananthapuram stretch was slated to be complete by 2021.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan lost no time in calling Union road transport minister Nitin Gadgari to voice his concern over taking the project off the “high priority I list”. “With this move, the Centre would clip the wings of road development and ensure that the LDF government would not be able to commission the widened NH-66 stretch within its two years tenure left,” Vijayan said, alleging political intervention.
Land acquisition has been always been a problematic and long-drawn process in densely populated Kerala, and the NH widening project had been riddled by protesting landowners. However, recently, the state had made fairly good progress, G Kamala Vardhana Rao, principal secretary of public works department of Kerala told FE. “Land acquisition was 100% complete on the Kochi-Kasargod stretch, and more than 65% was ready in the Kochi-Thiruvananthapuram portion.”
According to MoRTH’s new decision, only 87 km of the NH66-stretch in North Kerala’s Kasargod will be on its “high priority list 1”.
Earlier, MoRTH had earmarked a whopping `26,000 crore to build six lanes on NH 66 in the Kerala stretch. “Landowners had been promised compensation on a par with the highest quantum of transactions done during the past three years, apart from the ‘multiplication factor’ and the cost of rebuilding structures, regardless of the age/cost of buildings,” said a project official.
The widening was expected to follow the hybrid annuity model, by which the contractor will shoulder the entire cost. The National Highway Authority of India is to repay the amount in the course of 10 years or more, collecting toll to realize the cost. By taking the project off the front-burner, MoRTH has touched a raw political nerve. Posting on Facebook, a letter by BJP state president Sreedharan Pillai to Nitin Gadkari pressing for a stay on land acquisitions in Kerala for NH 66, state finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the state BJP chief should be declared a public enemy.
While Pillai explained that his controversial letter was written in the context of Kerala floods in 2018, Union minister of state Alphons KJ was quick to do some damage control. Alphons, who is also a BJP LS poll candidate, promptly shot a letter to Gadkari seeking to reinstate all NH 66 projects on Kerala stretch to “the priority list 1” .
Road experts in State Public Work department says that “NH carriage way and service roads can be completed, within 24 months of land-acquisition”. Completion of NH 66 widening in Kerala would, however, depend on the emerging Centre-State political equations too.