Eastern Expressway: Modi and Akhilesh Yadav vie for credit     

All political parties seem to be in need of the reminder that public projects built at public cost are not their property

Eastern Expressway: Modi and Akhilesh Yadav vie for credit      
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Jeevan Iyer

The golden rule of good governance is that all development projects are intended for the benefit of the people. But political parties are increasingly appropriating schemes, taking ownership and behaving as if the schemes are favours they have dispensed like royalty.

The latest to get into an unseemly squabble over ownership of Eastern Expressway in Uttar Pradesh are the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.

The ambitious highway project aims to connect the backward districts in eastern UP to the more economically vibrant western UP and Delhi. The idea, however, is by no means new. It has been talked about by almost every chief minister of the state from Govind Ballabh Pant to Chaudhary Charan Singh, from Kamlapathi Tripathi to Vishwanath Pratap Singh. More recently, Mulayam Singh, Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singhand Mayawati have also dreamt of an East-West corridor within the state.

It was left to Akhilesh Yadav to lay the foundation stone on December 22, 2016. Sadly, he chose the fag end of his tenure to announce the mega project. Barely three months later, he had lost the election and power to the BJP and one of the first things the new government did was to cancel the tenders awarded to six firms by the SP government.

Clearly, the 354-km-long Expressway between Lucknow and Ghazipur was too lucrative and luscious a project to allow the previous regime to share any of the credit. The official reason given for the cancellation was that land acquisition process had not yet been completed.

Akhilesh also pointed to other downgrades - there would be no service lanes under the new project, and there is no provision for streetlights, which will be done later at separate costs

The project itself was tweaked into eight job packages and fresh tendering was initiated. After a few hiccups and a couple of more tender cancellations, five firms were selected

• PNC Infratech Limited

• Gayatri Projects

• GR Infra,

• Oriental Structural Engineering and

• Apco Infra.

For the record, Gayatri was declared the lowest bidder for packages I and II at a cost of ₹1,483 Cr and ₹1,276 Cr respectively, while package III went to Apco for ₹1,380.74 Cr. Packages IV and VII have been awarded to GR Infra at a construction cost of ₹1,497 Cr and ₹1,437.47 cr. for Packages V and VI have been awarded to PNC Infra at ₹1,566 and ₹954 Cr while package VIII has been bagged by Oriental Structural Engineering at ₹1,621.89 cr.

With Lok Sabha elections due in 2019 and following instructions from the PMO, the process was fast-tracked and on Saturday, July 14, the Prime Minister arrived in Azamgarh to inaugurate a project that had already been inaugurated 19 months ago by Akhilesh Yadav.

In his speech, Modi typically took the entire credit for the concept of linking eastern UP to western UP. Typically, again, Modi devoted a considerable portion of his public address to mocking all Opposition parties which, he claimed, had done nothing to develop the state.

The previous Samajwadi Party government had prepared the groundwork for the project and had done considerable work and an upset Akhilesh Yadav took to Twitter to accuse the PM of not acknowledging the work done by the Samajwadi Party government. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari also pointed out land acquisition for the project was done much before the Yogi government came to power in Uttar Pradesh.

A stung Akhilesh Yadav called a press conference to say, “This was originally Samajwadi Poorvanchal Expressway, but the word Samajwadi has been deleted”. UP Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma hurriedly held a counter-press conference to assert that Akhilesh Yadav had insulted the PM by making such remarks. The project costs had been brought down, he claimed.

Akhilesh Yadav retorted by saying that the marginal reduction in cost was because specifications of the project had been lowered by the Yogi Adityanath government.

The Samajwadi Party government had planned to construct a six-lane expressway which would be “expandable to eight lanes”, he said, but, “the Yogi plan is for the Purvanchal Expressway to always remain six-lane and with no provision for future expansion.”

Akhilesh also pointed to other downgrades - there would be no service lanes under the new project, and there is no provision for streetlights, which will be done later at separate costs.

“Just to show a lower budget, the highway is being constructed as per PWD standards and not up to international standards. Moreover, who will construct the toilets? We had provided for amenities which could cater to passengers of two buses simultaneously,” complained the former PM. He also claimed that BJP was deceiving the people of Purvanchal, by leaving out Varanasi, Ayodhya and Gorakhpur from the new Purvanchal Expressway project.

Political parties need to be reminded that public projects are not either private or political property.

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