Already delayed by over a year, the 10-kilometre Kharar-Chandigarh road expansion project that entails construction of two flyovers and three bridges is set to miss its deadline for the fifth time, with the National Highway Authority of India confirming that the work would not be completed before September 2020.
The NHAI had handed over the ₹368-crore project to Larsen & Toubro, which began the construction in November 2015. It was to be completed by December 2018. However, in the past four years, only 68% work has been completed, and the deadline was shifted multiple times, only to leave motorists stuck in long traffic snarls on this busy national highway that connects Chandigarh to parts of Punjab besides Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Kharar remains a major bottleneck on NH-21, as around 50,000 vehicles cross the stretch daily. The rising dust due to the ongoing construction is making the situation worse for the commuters, especially two-wheeler riders.
PASSING THE BUCK
A senior official of L&T, who didn’t wish to be named, called it the “worst project” the multinational firm has ever taken up. “We have been completing flyover projects across the world within two-and-a-half years, but this one is an unending one, due to delay in clearances by the district administration. These delays are bringing a bad name to our company,” he said. The firm has even threatened to pull out of the project multiple times.
Earlier, the NHAI had been attributing the shifting deadlines to delay in land acquisition, pinning the blame on the Mohali district administration. However, now the delay is due to shifting of overhead high-tension power cables, for which Punjab State Transmission Corporation Limited (PSTCL) is to be blamed, according to NHAI project director Krishnan Sachdeva.
The PSTCL has apparently sought three more months to remove the power cables.
“All the land required for the project has been acquired and work is going on at multiple spots on a war footing. The deadline has been shifted to September 30 from July to carry out shifting of high-tension power cables and construction of a new bridge at Khanpur. We are also working on fixing the drainage problem and construction of service roads,” he said.
The Mohali administration’s failure to implement traffic diversions has also been a bone of contention.
“We have been demanding enforcement of traffic diversions since the beginning to facilitate the ongoing work. We have now demanded diversion of traffic at Khanpur Chowk through Kurali-Siswan T-point, so that people get an alternative route and work is not held up,” said Bhavnesh Kumar, who works as a technical manager with the NHAI.
“There were two major bottlenecks delaying the project — land acquisition and traffic diversion,” admitted Kharar sub-divisional magistrate Himanshu Jain. “We have received almost the complete land, but a few patches are still pending. The NHAI has been asked to acquire them through mutual consent. We are also charting out a complete plan to go for major traffic diversions on the route.”
Residents, who are at the receiving end, want the work to be completed at the earliest.
“The authorities concerned are least bothered about the inconvenience to commuters, and are just indulging in blame game. It is challenge to cross the stretch, and sometimes during emergencies, people cannot even reach hospitals on time,” said Kamaldeep Singh Tiwana, a Kharar resident.
“This is a flyover to nowhere,” said Ashok Sharma, who is the president of the local traders’ body. “The stretch is dotted with traffic gridlocks throughout the day.”
“It is unfortunate that there is no one to hold these multiple agencies involved in the project accountable,” said Brijesh Kumar, who lives in Prime City, Kharar.
Recently, Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari took up the issue with the Union minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari, following which the ministry in its letter had stated that there was delay in handing over the complete project land.
“I have already urged the Union minister and NHAI chairman to complete the project at the earliest,” said Tewari.
Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu said all stakeholders are to be blamed for the delay. “They don’t understand how people are suffering on the ground. If the deadline has been revised, I will take up this issue with the NHAI chairman,” he said, while adding that the situation has improved in the past few weeks and a nodal officer needs to be appointed to monitor the work.
Meanwhile, even the Punjab and Haryana high court intervened in the matter on February 5. Hearing a case on delays in execution of highway work between Kharar and Ludhiana, it had summoned the NHAI project director for February 19.
He is required to “remain present in court along with the relevant record”. “He shall also apprise the court about the reasons for inordinate delay in completion of the national highway,” stated the order.