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Moving With Caution On Coastal Highway

Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has announced that the central government was contemplating to develop a Goa-Mumbai coastal highway like the Los Angeles-San Francisco highway along the Pacific Coast in the US. The coastal highway would take the load off National Highway 17, one of the busiest and most accident-prone national highways in the country. The idea is not a wishful thinking as Gadkari has assigned an internationally reputed agency to prepare a detailed project report. The project, which is expected to be rolled out by the next year, would provide a new direction to infrastructure development along the sea coast and help the tourism sector in a big way. The concept, which is in planning stages, should envisage creation of world class infrastructure and amenities that should serve as tourist attractions besides offering alternative travel route to motorists. The possibility of the towns along the way taking advantage to draw more visitors to experience stay and enjoy their greenery and heritage is immense.

If a project of this scale is successfully implemented along the Maharashtra-Goa coast, it could inspire similar projects along the 7,500-kilometre coast line of the country and give a new direction to promotion of tourism and other businesses. It can give a fillip to the local economies. The project envisages construction of 22 flyovers and dozens of bridges along the coastal highways, which will generate employment for thousands of people. There are proposals for beautifying the surroundings of the Mumbai-Goa coastal highway on the lines of the picturesque road linking Los Angeles and San Francisco and facilities and amenities such as hotels, motels, small malls, fruit shops, parking areas, lawns, helipads, entertainment and petrol pumps are planned along it. As the project, which is expected to cost Rs 17,000 crore, is going to be a new concept enough care has to be taken to see that it does not face hurdles once it gets going.

The construction of the coastal highway and the amenities along it has to be planned in such way and with such attention to quality and space that they attract people to use and visit them. Along with  creation of world class highway and amenities the authorities need to ensure that local people readily accept the newer surroundings and adapt to them without causing any damage to the amenities. As the locals would be partners in the development and use of amenities they have to be helped to take up the jobs that would be created by the construction of the highway and the amenities. The planners would have to carry out a study of the locally available workforce, which could be engaged in the implementation of the project so as to take them along as partners in development and remove any hurdles that grievances and doubts in the minds of local communities might create. As local people, especially farmers, could lose their land and homes for the project and livelihood in the process the government has to plan their rehabilitation to their utmost satisfaction and nothing should be left to chance. A good roadmap for executing the project and a satisfactory execution would go a long way in implementing similar projects elsewhere.

It is clear that the concerned state governments have to be partners in development of the coastal highway. The authorities have to ensure that permission from statutory and local authorities are obtained in the most transparent manner so as to avoid any litigation that might delay the implementation of the project. There is possibility that land acquisition could be a problem in the state of Goa, if not in Maharashtra, as has been the case in several cases. As land is scarce in Goa, especially along the coastal line, the authorities would have to treat cautiously in acquiring land. As the coastal areas of Goa are densely populated and have thousands of houses and buildings, the project might have to be diverted away from the Goan coast to make it a reality. Given the fact that Goans are hyperactive on the issue of environment issues and rush to courts to stall every project, care has also to be taken to satisfy them beforehand and ensure that all precautions are taken not to cause damage to the ecology. It remains to be seen how the authorities would use their expertise to win over the local communities in the two states and acquire land and take them on board so as to make the project a reality in the state. Any attempt to take over land using coercive methods could put the project in jeopardy.

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