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KOCHI: Widening of national highways (NH) has once again hit a roadblock with state and central government agencies passing the buck on who will foot the bill. The latest twist in the tale is Centre’s letter which states that the land value here is quite high; the message is clear the project is unlikely to adhere to its schedule.
State government said Centre is playing the high land value card to delay the NH works. “When we talked in 2016, Centre assured that the work would start in April 2017. But, it did not start. Now, they have come up with this land acquisition (LA) cost argument by comparing us with states like Rajasthan. How can we expect a uniform land value? We have written back questioning Centre’s logic and assured that our valuation is reasonable and not high,” said PWD minister G Sudhakaran.

When TOI contacted Ashish Dwivedi, regional director, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), agency in charge of the project, he refused to comment on the cost issue.

Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research D Dhanuraj admitted that compared to other states, land acquisition cost was high in Kerala. “The market value of land is high and parameters like wages are also high in Kerala. Unlike other states, the population density is high here. All these factors together contribute to Kerala’s high land value,” he said.

Also, there are allegations that state government is not adopting LA procedures by following the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. “If land is acquired under the 2013 Act, landowners will get better compensation. But, state government is not initiating procedures as per that act,” said activist Harish Vasudevan. AAP state convener CR Neelakandan insisted on rehab and resettlement of landowners. “The 2013 Act clearly states the measures that need to be taken for resettlement of landowners. Government should conduct social impact assessment (SIA) before LA and government is not adhering to this norm,” he said.

But, state government claimed that it supported the 2013 Act for acquiring land for NH widening. “Centre has to pay the compensation and land value for NH widening. State has also adopted a stand that Centre must acquire land by giving compensation as per the 2013 Act,” Sudhakaran said. NHAI should start widening of highways where there are no issues. “LA disputes are less than 5% when we look at the overall project. So, NHAI should acquire land in remaining areas and start work immediately. In Kasaragod, Thrissur, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, there are no issues pertaining to land acquisition,” said Sudhakaran.

However, an official with NHAI said that the agency has expedited the entire process. “Entire land acquisition process will be completed by November and work will start on all stretches by November 30,” he said.

This news was published in The Times of India on April 9, 2018; Click here to read: NH widening set for a rocky ride

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