Infra projects in Kerala get going on land acquisition push

Finding a way around Kerala’s infamous right-of-way issues, which have dogged infrastructure projects for decades under different governments in the state, is one of the emerging success stories for the state’s left front government. Three badly-delayed projects are getting back on track due to the government’s land acquisition efforts: Widening and upgrading of project for sections of the over 1,811-km national highway (NH) network traversing the state, a GAIL pipeline project that has been held up for well over five years and the commissioning of the transmission lines needed to wheel electricity from the Kudankulam nuclear power project in adjoining Tamil Nadu.

“There was an impression that no infrastructure development would take place in the state. But it has changed now — land acquisition has started taking place. With the government taking measures for rehabilitation process, the people have started cooperating,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told The Indian Express.

The delays in these projects over the years have extracted a heavy economic cost on the state. The four-laning of the NH stretches has led to severe traffic and transportation problems, alongside the loss of allocation of Kerala’s share of money for highway upgradation from the Central Road Fund. Delays in the Kudankulam-Kochi 400-kv line meant that Kerala has been unable to draw its entire share of 266 MW of electricity from the Kudankulam nuclear station, while the GAIL pipeline that traverses 503 km through Kerala’s Malappuram and Kozhikode districts has been hanging fire since 2012.

“The GAIL pipeline, a project to lay a natural gas pipeline from Kochi to Mangaluru, was almost impossible to execute, but now it will be completed next year. The setting up of the Kudankulam-Kochi 400kv power transmission line for power evacuation from the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, which had been delayed also has gained speed.

The government’s stand is that such projects are necessary for the state’s development but the government would be sympathetic to people’s issues and would solve them. But protests would not make government withdraw from the projects,” Vijayan said.

On the GAIL pipeline, the state government has completed the right-of-way assessment along the entire 503-km stretch, including the main bottlenecks of Kozhikode and Malappuram. In Kasargode, the process of laying the pipeline has already commenced. Kerala, which has eight NHs that run for about 1,811 km, has traditionally had narrower road sections compared to the rest of the country due to land acquisition issues.

The National Highways Authority of India, which upgrades highways to a minimum width of 60 metres across the country, has authorised a special dispensation of Kerala where a road widening target of 45 metres has been mandated, given that the state is densely populated and sections along both sides of the highways in Kerala are thickly built. Despite that, the land acquisition for the highway upgradation project has been stuck for years and the national highway sections across most part of Kerala are around 30 metres wide currently.

“An all-party meeting has approved the state government’s view that a 45-metre width is a must for national highways in the state and the target is to complete the six-laning of National Highway-66 from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram within three years. The Chief Minister’s office is directly monitoring the projects,” an official involved in the exercise said.

An NHAI official said that the physical progress of highway works had picked up pace in the past 12 months. “Seven National Highway expansion works amounting to Rs 2,981 crore are in progress in the Kerala. There are objections from the people against land acquisition and removal of encroachments and structures for development and expansion of National Highways Projects in Kerala, which are being progressively sorted out,” an official said.

During 2016-17, the funds disbursed by the Centre to Kerala for the development of NHs totalled at Rs 250 crore, of which Rs 212 crore had been spent, while another 30 crore had been earmarked under the permanent bridge fee fund, of which an expenditure of 26 crore was reported to have been undertaken. In addition, an expenditure of Rs 293.48 crore had been incurred on EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) projects during the financial year 2016-17 by NHAI, according to an official with the highway authority.

Apart from these projects, the construction of a 657-km coastal highway and a hill highway project with a total length of 1,267 km is targeted to commence this fiscal, a state government official said. The coastal highway project will be completed at a cost of Rs 6,500 crore, while the hill highway project will be taken up at an expenditure of Rs 3,500 crore. The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board would be the funding agency for both of these projects, the official said.

INDIAN EXPRESS

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