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Sunday Special » Kaleidoscope

Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 2:18 AM (IST)

Trust your instincts at NH-I’s Panipat-Jalandhar stretch

Parveen Arora in Karnal
Missing railings on flyovers, incomplete foot-over-bridges, service lanes with potholes, no safety railings between service lanes and main road... this is the state of the lifeline of northern India linking Delhi with Attari (Amritsar)

Parveen Arora in Karnal

HERE’S traffic advisory for those travelling between Panipat and Jalandhar: don’t trust the highway and watch out for a series of dangers up ahead. This is a part of NH-I, the National Highway Authority of India’s prestigious project to six-lane the 291 km stretch of which 116 km lies in Haryana and the rest in Punjab.

Look at its “salient” features: missing railings on flyovers, incomplete foot-over-bridges, service lanes with potholes, no signages for entry and exit, no safety railings between service lanes and main road, unfinished drainage work, defunct streetlights and several arbitrary cuts. So much for the lifeline of northern India linking Delhi with Attari (Amritsar)! 

The project has had several convolutions in its execution ever since it was contracted nine years ago. The Soma-Isolux NH1 Tollway Pvt Ltd, a consortium of Spanish company Isolux Corsan and its Indian partner Soma Enterprises Ltd, was awarded the contract. An agreement for the Rs 4,500-crore project was signed in 2008 on the design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) basis with a concession period of 15 years.

The deadline was 30 months from May, 2009 to November, 2011. But the company failed to meet the deadline. It approached the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to shift its two toll plazas from Samanabahu near Nilokheri to Gharaunda and second one from Punjab to Shahbad, which the NHAI had approved. But the state government objected, so the locations were modified by Soma-Isolux.

Meanwhile, on a PIL filed in 1998 by a Kurukshetra resident over issues concerning the national highway, the Punjab and Haryana High Court terminated the work order of Soma Isolux and imposed a fine of Rs 60 crore on the company in May, 2013. The company challenged it in the Supreme Court and also requested to shift the toll plazas from Samanbahu to Bastara and from Punjab to Sambhu border in Haryana. 

They also requested to extend the deadline citing shortage of material and a financial crunch. In April, 2014, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court order and directed the authorities to shift the toll plazas within two months. Soma-Isolux was directed to complete the work by March 31, 2015.

Since shifting of toll plazas was delayed, Soma Isolux again approached the Supreme to shift their date of completion to November 30, 2015. It cited untimely rain and a poor availability of construction material. The apex court accepted it and also directed the rest of the dispute may be settled in the Arbitration Tribunal. Soma-Isolux was given provisional completion in September, 2015 after delinking the 22-km scattered stretches in Punjab and Haryana, which could not be taken off because of land disputes. But the work seems to be incomplete even in 2017.

This stretch passes through four Haryana districts — Panipat, Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala, and five Punjab districts that include Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Kapurthala. As many as 180 structures (bridges, passenger underpasses and vehicular underpasses) were to be built on the highway.

In Haryana, the company had to build one railway-over-bridge (RoB), 15 vehicular under passes, 20 passenger underpasses, 42 foot-over-bridges, 28 flyovers. Of them the work of RoB, VUPs, PUPs and flyovers had been completed, but four foot-over-bridges are yet to be completed, as claimed by the authorities.

An on-the-spot survey reveals several anomalies on this stretch. For instance, four foot-over-bridges near Taraori, Karnashwer Mandir, Kambopura and Uncha Samana in Karnal district are yet to be completed, while a foot-over-bridge near Butana village is gathering rust. 

Demanding the NHAI and SOMA to ensure the safety of the commuters, Sandeep Lather, executive chairman of the Citizen Grievances Committee (CGC) along with other members did a similar survey. It noted that several fatal accidents have taken place due to poor construction. 

VK Sharma, NHAI project director, claims the NHAI has imposed a penalty of over Rs 10 lakh on Soma. “The company has started the work for developing entry and exit points,” he says.

“Local issues at some places posed problems. We have installed fencing at the places recommended by the NHAI and we are also replacing the broken fencing,” says Deepak Lamba, monitoring officer of Soma.

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