At Km 97 on NH1 A in Jammu & Kashmir lies a nondescript town called Kunjwani. Lining the two-lane road are mounds of freshly dug soil even as a crane digs up the road’s central verge. Work began here barely a fortnight back. That’s hardly a surprise.
The four-laning of this 17.2-km stretch on the Jammu-Pathankot section of NH 1 A was scheduled for completion December 2004. Part of Phase I of the ambitious North-South East-West corridor project of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), this stretch looks set to miss even the revised deadline of December 2006.
The MoU was signed between NHAI and Border Roads Organisation as early as January 2002. Cost: Rs 83.88 crore. The December 2004 deadline was later extended to September 30, 2005 when BRO applied for yet another extension pushing it to December 2006.
The new deadline and the delay has escalated project costs to a little over Rs 100 crore, say BRO officials. But look at the report of Lea Associates South Asia Pvt Ltd, the supervision consultant appointed by NHAI, their deadline is December 2007.
The results are there to see: Narrow, pebbled diversions handle over 8,000 vehicles per day on this crucial link on the Uri-Jalandhar NH 1 that passes through Bari Brahmna, the economic hub near Jammu. Broken roads mark the entry to the industrial area. Within the town itself, rafts have been cast on the road for construction of an underpass and flyover. With no one to direct traffic flow and a shrinking right of way with construction on, tongas, trucks and cranes vie for space. By 7 pm, it is chaos—a sea of mud in the dark. Just a 200-m 4-laned stretch near Thandi Kui is a tantalising peek into what this could be come December 2006, or perhaps, December 2007.
“The highway will be ready in December 2006 as per the deadline. If Border Roads Organisation takes it up on a war footing, we will manage to stick to the deadline,” says Col Vijay Kumar, Project Director, NHAI.Mohan Lal, Project Director Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is more realistic. He has reason to: there are 26 bridges to be constructed here, eight major, 18 minor ones, work has only begun on three.
“We have some 927 labourers, have spent over Rs 16.57 crore on vehicles and equipment. While four-laning between Kunjwani and Vijaypur will be over by December this year, the bridges will take longer, some until mid 2007 or so,” he said.
Why the delay? “There have been lots of design changes and heavy encroachment along the highway stretch,” said Lal. “Utility shifting also caused delays but mainly it was the extensive scope of work. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) consultant ignored a lot of things. We have had to add many more culverts. Project cost has also risen to about Rs 104-105 crore now.”
The NHAI project director, however, attributes delays to “constraints” within dealing with the BRO.
“BRO is a government organisation and has several levels of operations. Procurement of machinery and material, for instance, is all done by BRO in Delhi so here they have to wait until it arrives. Also BRO being a government agency does not generate any cash and work by them depends on the cash payment they receive against bill payments to NHAI. Even this cash will first go to Delhi and then be sanctioned to BRO. They also have a higher overhead expense per month as compared to civil contractors”, said Col Vijay Kumar. That apart, there have been design changes. For example, the span of the underpass at Bari Brahmana has been increased to accommodate vehicles besides pedestrians. Also, as per a new circular, the 4-lane bridges have to be converted to 6-lane ones.
In 2001-03, BRO helped four-lane a stretch near Goa. This is its second project, the first in Jammu & Kashmir. Sources said BRO got the project because this stretch runs through high-security defence establishments like at Kaluchak. Incidentally, there is no clause about penalty in case of delay in the MoU between NHAI and BRO as is usually done.
If the 17.2-km stretch has been now pushed to next year, there are others with 2008 deadlines: Jammu to Kunjwani, Vijaypur to Pathankot, Jammu to Udhampur, Ramban to Jawahar tunnel. Officials admit that if you add a couple of extra years to that, you won’t be inaccurate.