DISAPPOINTED by the slow pace of National Highways (NH) projects in the state, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has said the projects facing unwarranted opposition should be cancelled rather than altered to suit the interests of opponents. Goa has a history of opposition to every major project of the government. The strong words from Gadkari are apparently aimed at those who have been opposing NH projects or seeking modification to protect their personal properties or on grounds of imagined adverse impact. Though the NH works started two years ago, the state officials were found to be lagging behind in completing the land acquisition process. A 20-page advertisement for land acquisition across the state was published on Monday, when Gadkari was expected to come, which shows the failure of the state government in acquiring land for the projects. Ministers and officers have obviously been unable to overcome the resistance to land acquisition from politicians and others, thus causing delay of thousands of crore worth projects designed in larger public interest for reasons of private interests of some.
It has come to light that the projects have also been delayed because of constant changes in alignment, which have meant money spent on the work already executed going waste and increase in cost of the realignment. It has been estimated that the ongoing projects are already six months behind schedule. The central government-funded projects have been facing objections at Porvorim, Vasco and at various places in Salcete taluka. Opponents of projects have started making unreasonable demands, especially in Salcete taluka, after substantial progress has been made. The biggest fear expressed by the people of Salcete is that the construction of the Western Express Highway could lead to flooding in their areas. This is despite the fact that the authorities have taken all precautions to prevent flooding by constructing culverts every hundred metres. Gadkari too has sought to allay the fears by stating that all steps have been taken to prevent such an eventuality. However, as people have misgivings over the issue it would be better if the government makes efforts to create awareness among those protesting with the help of experts and local leaders.
Perhaps emboldened by the willingness of the state public works department authorities to oblige everyone with some connection who objected to the ongoing works and change the alignments to suit their biddings, there have been too many demands to make changes. The authorities entrusted with the work of implementation of the projects have now come to realize that there would be no end to such demands. It is high time that Minister for Public Works Sudin Dhavlikar and his officers stop making compromises on the project designs and alignments in order to please this or that politician or group of locals. Already, for protecting houses of politicians and others, road alignments have been changed in several places. Dhavlikar had to plead with Gadkari’s ministry to construct flyovers in order to avoid demolition of houses of powerful people and acquisition of their land. Several flyovers, which were not necessary, are being constructed to save the houses of those who wield political power or political patronage, leading to waste of public money.
Delay in projects has meant sacrifice of the larger public interest for the individual interests of those who had influence over the public works department minister and officers. Delay has meant waste of public money and cost escalation. Delay has meant that people have to wait much longer for the completion of projects that are planned for faster movement of vehicular traffic. Delay has meant slowing down of traffic due to roads being occupied for construction and roads being diverted, leaving less space for two-way traffic. Delay has meant more than expected dust pollution for people residing near the project sites and those using the roads. Having belatedly taken cognizance of unreasonable demands of the vested interests it is high time that rather than playing to the vote bank politics the authorities go by the rule book and take steps for early completion of the projects so that larger public interest is served and the projects are not held hostage to save the properties of a few that fall in the alignments. Road is the basic part of infrastructure. Goa needs good, wide roads for movement of vehicles whose numbers go on increasing every year. The public works department exists to create adequate infrastructure for human and cargo transportation. It cannot do so if succumbs to the preferences a few.