Alignment of Delhi-Katra Expressway

B D Sharma
Roads make a crucial contribution to the economic development and growth of a country. It has rightly been said that roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. It ushers in important social benefits by providing access to employment, social, health and education services. So a road network is vital in fighting poverty. Roads open up more areas and stimulate economic and social development there. For these reasons, road infrastructure is perhaps the most important of all public assets. A lot of development in the road sector has taken place in the country since the day the Vajpayee Govt started to give priority to this sector. Fortunately an efficient hand in Mr Gadkari is overseeing this sector and with the Prime Minister also taking a keen interest in it, the country is witnessing rapid strides in this sphere. While the roads bring economic and social benefits, they can come with social costs such as pollution and disruption in agricultural and commercial activities.
It is a very gratifying news for all the people of the Union Territory that a prestigious Expressway project from Delhi to Katra via Amritsar has been taken in hand by the Central Govt. It will not only connect the two most important religious places of northern India but will also reduce the time taken for traveling from Delhi to Katra/Jammu. This will give a boost to the religious tourism as also to act as catalyst for the promotion of industrial and commercial activities.
However some deficiencies in the planning and construction of this Expressway are agitating the minds of the people. The Expressway in the UT can roundly be divided in two parts. One from river Ravi to village Sapwal near Vijaypur and the other from village Sapwal to Sidhara and onwards to Katra. After crossing over the river Ravi, the Expressway passes along Kathua town. From here it leads to village Jakhbad-Bigwan. Then it crosses the Ujh river and passes through the east of Hiranagar. It enters Samba district near Ghagwal and crosses the Basantar river downstream of Samba Industrial Estate. Near village Sapwal it falls upon the National Highway. The Expressway from river Ravi to village Sapwal passes through some productive patches of irrigated land. Since quite a wide stretch of land is being acquired so it will deprive many farmers of their livelihood. Secondly it falls within the range of few kilometers from the bulges of Indo-Pak border at a few places. With our relations with Pakistan what they are, it is not advisable to expose such a valuable asset to our sworn enemy. It would have been better if the Expressway after touching Barnoti, near Kathua had crossed over the National Highway to pass through village Budhi to village Mangloor to Koota to Samba to Gurha Salathia to Birpur falling in the Kandi areas of Kathua and Samba districts.
The construction of Expressway from village Sapwal gives rise to new set of problems. From village Sapwal, the Expressway is being superimposed upon the existing National Highway/ By-Pass up to Sidhra and beyond thereby taking it up as a brown-field project. However additional stretches of land on both sides is also being acquired in order to cater to the requirements of both the Highway as well as the Expressway. Twining of both the Expressway and the National Highway is fraught with a plethora of problems. Since the Vijaypur-Bari Brahamana-Kunjwani-Transport Nagar Narwal section of the National Highway is already the most densely commercialized and inhabited patch of the Highway, the commuters face a lot of difficulty in negotiating this part. Clubbing of both the roads will result in multiplication of both the traffic and the difficulty of the people.
Land around and along the Vijaypur…Transport Nagar- Narwal segment of the National Highway/Bypass has emerged/ is emerging as the commercial hub of Jammu suburb. With Nagrota side witnessing a dead end because of hilly terrain, RS Pura axis consisting of the most productive patch of land and the Akhnoor axis falling on the wrong side of the commercial hub of city, the area along the National Highway on the Vijaypur-Samba axis remains the most suitable for the extension of commercial establishments of Future Jammu. Already a chain of commercial establishments have mushroomed at Kunjwani, Bari Brahamana, Sarore Adda, Tarore Patli More, Jakh Rahya Morh, Thandi Khui, Swankha More and Vijaypur. The commercial establishments have grown on both sides of the road as there is smooth accessibility and clear vision across the road. Since the Expressway will be access controlled so it envisages putting up of railings on both the sides. The mobility and view will thus be denied to the people. In this way the growth of the potential commercial area of the suburb of Jammu will be jeopardized by this project.
Secondly the running of the Expressway and the National Highway conjointly requires a wide Right of Way so lot of land on both sides is being acquired by the National Highways Authority. Apart from disturbing some of the big establishments like hotels, KFC, Petrol Pumps, Vehicle Outlets, a large number of small and medium shops will also be uprooted. In addition quite a number of residential homes are also being acquired. This will entail huge interruption of the commercial and allied activities in the densely populated area and consequently ending up in displacement and disruption of the means of livelihood of a large number of people.
The Government on its part will have to pay a huge amount of compensation for the land, for the structures and for the rehabilitation of the effected people. Since the cost of the land along the highway is very high so a hefty amount of compensation will have to be paid. I think one will hesitate to believe that a shop having an area of about 30 square meters at a prime location near Vijaypur or Bari Brahamana may cost more than thirty to forty lakh of rupees. It seems that the Highway authorities are not aware of the real value of these chunks of land. Problem is further compounded because uniform Circle rates in many villages, have been notified for the village as a whole without caring to grade the land as commercial, residential and agricultural. Deputy Commissioners will fix the rates according to the notified Circle rates. But this will rip the owners off their dues as they will not get the real value of their land. Consequently they would decline receipt of the compensation and resist handing over the possession tooth and nail resulting in serious law and order problems. Even if the possession is taken by use of force, the effected people will approach the arbitrator who will have no other option but to enhance the amount of compensation keeping in view the prevailing market rates. In this way the people will get embroiled in much of litigation.
The joint flow of traffic over the Highway and the Expressway in the adjoining lanes will result in increase in the number of vehicles plying , thereby raising the pollution level in the area very high. The emission of gases around Bari Brahamana industrial estate plus the existing traffic flow has already made life of the people ill at ease in the villages nearby. By superimposing the additional network on the existing road is patently wrong intervention in the area already having high traffic density. Additional users will increase both the congestion and the pollution -noise, gaseous and the particulate.
Moreover the acquisition of additional land necessitates shifting of the utilities such as electric supply, water supply and telephone lines which are preponderant in number along the Highway. Their shifting and relaying entails lot of inconvenience to the people and lot of cost and time to the government. In the same vein large number of fruit bearing and other trees shall be felled entailing a lot in cost and time. Notably the land is being acquired in accordance with the provisions of National Highways Act, 1956 but the compensation is determined in the light of provisions of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement(RFCTLARR) Act 2013. Though adequate compensation is determined under this Act as compared to earlier Land Acquisition Act Svt 1990 yet it will not be fair in respect of high value land such as the land located along the national highway because there are anomalies in fixing the Circle rates and there is concealment of actual sale rates to avoid exorbitant stamp duty in case of such land. Though the Social Impact Assessment has been dispensed with for acquisition of land for roads yet the effected persons are entitled to relief for rehabilitation and resettlement in accordance with the schedule second and third of RFCTLARR, Act 2013. National Highway authorities contend that in the Right of Way only few cases of Rehabilitation and no case of Resettlement are encountered. The factual position here is, however otherwise. Since the business establishments will be dismantled so the means of livelihood of the concerned people will be snatched. Their rehabilitation, as such becomes mandatory. Similarly there are some other cases where both commercial as well as residential assets of the family are being acquired.
Such cases by all means fall under the scheme of resettlement as envisaged in the Act. Unfortunately the concerned authorities in the UT have not come out as yet with any guidelines on these subjects which will certainly cause delay, resentment, resistance to acquisition and prolonged litigation.
In order to rectify the preceding encumbrances, the authorities concerned had the option of an alternate alignment. At village Sapwal the Expressway should have crossed over the National Highway and taken its route to Gurha Salathia. From there it should have taken its course to the location of Central University and then to Bari-Badhori. After crossing the Balol nullah near Birpur the Expressway should have lead through Choadhy Sunjwan and meet the Jammu By-Pass near Batra Medical College.
First of all this alignment would offer the choice of working out a near perfect road geometry with reduced distance thereby providing savings on travel-time and fuel costs. The important places like AIIMS Vijaypur, Central University Rahya-Suchani, Bari Brahamana and Jammu city would be connected to the Expressway by spurs thereby enhancing road connectivity in the new area. Secondly, it will pass through the Kandi area where much of the land is not of the superior quality. So the rates of land coming under this alignment are much less than the land abutting the National Highway. Further, very less number of commercial establishments and residential structures were likely to come in the RoW.
The disturbance to the people would, as such be minimal and the comparative costs also significantly low. Again less number of utilities are expected to come in the right of way and as such the cost of relocating them would also be less. The land acquisition will thus be faster, with minimal resistance and cost-effective.
Last but not the least the new alignment will open up the potential for development of a new tract near Jammu city and it can lead to wealth creation for the less developed area. Jammu city and its immediate suburbs are almost saturated and the city has already earned the dubious distinction of worst traffic jams. So shifting of many offices including Civil Secretariat, Transport Yards, educational institutions, development of residential colonies and commercial complexes has acquired urgency.
There would be no other area better and so near to Jammu city as the Sunjwan-Birpur-Smailpur-Rahya axis. The Expressway and its service roads would have rendered a helping hand to develop the new abodes in this area.
In this way much of the traffic of National Highway 44 will get diverted to the distantly constructed Expressway (as also to the Ring Road) and the present traffic pressure in Vijaypur-Satwari section will be much eased. The present problem of traffic jams, pollution level and other bottlenecks will be adequately addressed. In the circumstances the authorities should reexamine the issue of the alignment of the Expressway particularly in Vijaypur-Sidhra section and take remedial measures.