By Rupesh Dutta,
New Delhi : Even as the Centre aspires to improve connectivity in the northeast under its Act East Policy, the two-laning of a crucial 43-km highway is hanging fire as Meghalaya’s Khasi Autonomous District Council (KHADC) has delayed its nod for acquiring land for the project.
The project, worth almost Rs 500 crore, will, once completed, ease trade and travel to the Indo-Bangladesh border. It has been pending for the last three years.
While the Meghalaya government has permitted the central government-run NHIDCL (National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited) to perform civil works on the stretch from Nongstoin to Wahkaji, this cannot begin till there is a NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the KHADC, a powerful autonomous body led by Meghalaya’s assertive Khasi tribe.
Earlier, on the same issue, an 18-km stretch from Wahkaji to the Mawthabah, a uranium-rich area, was deleted from the main project.
However, the stretch being a spur from Wahkaji, the project will be taken up after the NOC is issued.
According to documents on the project’s status, the work on two-laning the stretch had been awarded at the lowest bid of Rs 350.11 crore of M/s BSCPL Infra Ltd on October 31, 2014.
However, the work was transferred to NHIDCL on July 17, 2015. A number of attempts were made without success to obtain the NOC and so the contract awarded to M/s BSCPL Infra was withdrawn on September 8, 2016.
Sources in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) said that while many letters have been written to the Meghalaya government, there has been no concrete reply on the project, which is part of the government’s Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in North East (SARDP-NE) project.
“Many a times the matter has been taken up with Meghalaya’s Chief Secretary. Land acquisition for the stretch is immediately needed and the local residents have given their consent for it. However, the KHADC was not issuing the NOC, leading to cancellation of agreement (with the contractor),” a source in the ministry told IANS.
The need for the NOC becomes mandatory under the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. It states that in case of acquisition or alienation of any land in the scheduled areas, the prior consent of the concerned Gram Sabha/ Panchayat/Autonomous District Councils …under the fifth schedule of the constitution, shall be obtained in all the cases.
However, the KHADC says it is planning to give the NOC very soon and the delay was caused by some NGOs expressing concern over environmental damage to the uranium-rich Domiasiat area.
“The delay in giving the NOC was due to some NGOs having concern over the Domiasiat area which is rich in Uranium. However, we are planning to finalise the matter during our next meeting,” KHADC Chairman L. Nongsiej told IANS.
The KHADC is ready to cooperate with the state bodies on the road project, Nongsiej added.
Currently, Meghalaya, which shares a 443 km border with Bangladesh, does not have any other road project ready to be executed under the Centre’s monitoring. NHIDCL has meanwhile initiated the process of re-inviting bids for the Nongstoin-Wahkaji section with the reduced length of 43.06 km.
(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at Rupesh.firstname.lastname@example.org)