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MODI’s BHARATMALA PROJECT IS A PUSH FOR UNNECESSARY DEVELOPMENT IN PUNJAB

JUZAR SINGH
“Bharatmala” project is an auspicious project of Modi government. It is a big-budgeted project, the first of its kind and largest road development project of India in which GOI is going to spend more than 5 thousand crore rupees. It will connect 550 districts of India and more than 80 thousand km of road will be developed. It will include minimum four-lane to eight-lane roads. It seems like a will of Saffron leadership to make history by developing Bharatmala like Sher Shah Suri Marg. It will connect significant points in the country strategically and economically.

Expressways will be built in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and the states adjacent to Himalaya i.e. Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand

Then it will be developed in UP and Bihar along with Terai further in West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh up to Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram.

At present, national highways are just 2% of the total road network carrying 40% traffic causing road mishaps and slow movement of traffic. It aims at making the movement of freight traffic more quickly and accident-free roads by 2030. On one end Bharatmala project will extend road connectivity to Myanmar border in the northeast, on the other it will touch the Pakistan border by extension of Delhi Katra expressway to Wagha border and Kartarpur corridor. Roads adjacent to the China border will also be developed under the same. More emphasis is on frontier states than Hindi heartland.

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24 logistics parks will be connected by developing new corridors and making current corridors more effective. The number of corridors will be increased from 6 to 50. The government seems to be intended at improving road connectivity with the north-eastern states especially multimodal inland waterways of the region.

Delhi-Amritsar-Katra expressway (687 km)

Delhi-Amritsar-Katra expressway is a part of Bharatmala project and could be completed by 2023. This access control expressway will shrink the Delhi-Amritsar distance to 4 hours (405km) and Delhi-Katra distance to 6 hours(588km). This is the fastest ever route to Vaishno Devi shrine which is a significant Hindu shire record around ten million visits annually. Earlier BJP govt has started Katra express train which takes 8 hours to cover the same distance to Vaishno Devi. The inauguration of this project before Lok Sabha elections of 2024 will be a big boost for the saffron party.

A major part of this expressway will be built in Punjab. Starting from Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway this road will pass through Jhajjar, Rohtak, Sonipat, Jind and Kaithal. After covering 135 km in Haryana same will enter into Punjab from Khanauri-Patran, further towards Sangrur-Ludhiana and reach Nakodar where it will be divided into two spurs. From Nakodar it will be developed towards Kapurthala, Bholath, Qadian and reach Gurdaspur bypass, from there already existing Amritsar-Pathankot road will be developed into eight-lane road under brownfield project. 135 km – 432 km portion of the project is falling in Punjab.

The other spur will be furthered towards holy cities of Sikhs like Sultanpur Lodhi, Goindwal Sahib, Khadoor Sahib and Tarn Taran Sahib from where it will bypass Amritsar through Manawala.  It will also be connected to Guru Ramdas International Airport and Attari Border. Further, a road will be developed towards the Kartarpur corridor. Gurdaspur to Jammu border road will be developed as a brownfield. From Pathankot, road will enter into J & K, after passing through Jammu it will bypass Kathua, further it will be concluded at Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi in Katra.

CONCERNS that may raise your eyebrows

It will affect the green cover area in Punjab which is already 3%, one-tenth of the area recommended for sustainable development. It will pass through natural settlements like the Beas river. 

For sole development of greenfield in Punjab Earthwork 4,43,88,059 Cubic meter (cum), Aggregate 96,38,070 cum, Bitumen 2,90,555.6 MT, Emulsion 16,342.57 MT, Cement 9,57,933.5MT, Dust 19,10,068 Cum, Sand 10,26,876 Cum and Steel 1,94,070.8 MT.  About 1,76,33,308 KL water shall be required for construction of this project. New mining to meet above described requirement from lower hills and river banks would be a blow to Punjab’s ecological system. Punjab is already facing a shortfall in rain because of excessive exploitation of Shivalik hills. As seen earlier, there is no plantation done along with national highways as a decade has been passed since work is done.

There will be a total 306 km long road developed as a greenfield which needs thousands of acres of land.

The road from khanauri to Nakodar, Nakodar to Gurdaspur bypass and Nakodar to Amritsar will be greenfield roads.

Greenfield roads: developing a totally new road in the fields by acquiring new land.

Brownfield road construction: Widening the existing roads by acquiring land along with the road.

Land owner’s concern:

The farmers in Punjab are protesting against the NHAI for low compensation. On 17th of august farmers of Gurdaspur district lodged their complaints with DC regarding compensation for their land and unjust division of land. Farmers with small landholding whose land is falling under the project are worst hit. Some of them have lost their whole land where others’ land is divided into two parts. As we know expressways are closed, it will be difficult for farmers to cultivate their remaining land on both sides, doing so could be very hard and expensive. Closed roads will also fail to provide them with business opportunities on the road. The government should listen to their genuine demands. There are chances of water-logging near Gurdaspur where there is Beas river on one side and on the other road will be constructed.

Unnecessary Development

Some are considering it an unnecessary development as there is a strong road web in Punjab. For example, road from Patran to Nakodar via Sangrur, Malerkotla (east), Ludhiana (west), Jalandhar (west) will approximately be parallel to existing Sangrur Jalandhar road, the road from Nakodar to Amritsar is also parallel to Jalandhar-Amritsar road.

The road from Kartarpur to Gurdaspur via Kapurthala, Bholath, Qadian is unnecessary as there are two alternative roads. First one is Jalandhar to Batala road that is connected to Amritsar-Gurdaspur Pathankot road. There is a direct highway from Jalandhar to Pathankot. Also, an alternative road from Jalandhar to Gurdaspur via Mukerian is there. All these existing highways are straight. The only need was to improve their condition and traffic control system. A dense web of roads in a small state whose economy is based on agriculture could be harmful to long-run development.

Developing Greenfield Access Control highways by inviting bids from private companies on one hand and levying high tax on petroleum products for the road development in the name of ‘Road and Infrastructure Cess’ under “Central Road Fund Act 2000”, on the other is a big betrayal with the public. Indirectly, this is like giving farmer’s land in private corporations’ hands from which they will earn billions by imposing high toll taxes. Sad thing is that there is not a single opposition leader or intellectual of Punjab who has raised voice against shrewd snatching of land from innocent farmers of Punjab. There is a long pending demand of increase in the number of international flights at Guru Ramdas International Airport, that could also help in decreasing traffic on Amritsar Delhi road that is already existing.

Along with DELHI-AMRITSAR-KATRA EXPRESSWAY, Amritsar-Jamnagar expressway is also under construction. The main purpose of this route is to connect three refineries: Bathinda, Barmer and Jamnagar. But NHAI is going to develop it up to Amritsar and it also included a greenfield portion claiming more agricultural land. The trade through the Wagha border could be helpful in reducing the number of heavy trucks that move from Punjab to Gujrat carrying goods for import and export to ports in Gujarat.

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Thousands of hectare land will be covered under concrete in Punjab. As farmers near Qadian are saying that they have received the notices of land acquisition for road construction which will be 2 and a half-acre wide. As it is a greenfield project, it will intersect through the countryside of Punjab. Some see it as an unnecessary intrusion of the state in village society. This new model of roads is not going to help agrarian society as it will not provide any direct opportunity of doing business and also, they have to travel many kilometres to get on it.

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