In Fast-track Mode

Uttar Pradesh moves forward on its expressway development agenda

The Uttar Pradesh Industrial Expressways Development Authority (UPIEDA) has been playing an active role in terms of pushing forward the state government’s expressway development agenda. The state has the country’s longest expressway network with two operational expressways – the 302 km Lucknow-Agra Expressway and the 165 km Yamuna Expressway. The Purvanchal Expressway, the state’s third, is currently under construction and is likely to be operational by end 2020. Within days of laying the foundation for the 296 km Bundelkhand Expressway, the Uttar Pradesh government decided to fast track another mega expressway project in the state, the Ganga Expressway project. Recently, the project received an impetus with the sanction of funds in the 2020-21 state budget.

The proposal

The upcoming Ganga Expressway spans 628 km between the Prayagraj and Meerut districts in Uttar Pradesh, traversing the districts of JyotibhaPhule Nagar, Hapur, Sambhal, Budaun, Shahjahanpur, Farrukhabad, Hardoi, Unnao, Rae Bareli and Pratapgarh. The six-lane (expandable to eight lanes) mega expressway will entail the acquisition of about 6,556 hectares of land. It will have a width of 130 metres, apart from a 3.75 metre service road. The project will also involve the construction of eight rail overbridges and 18 flyovers. The upcoming expressway will intersect the Agra-Lucknow Expressway at Kannauj and Unnao. It is also proposed to serve as an emergency airstrip.

The project is expected to entail an investment of about Rs 360 billion. While Rs 139 billion will be spent on acquiring land for the expressway, Rs 221 billion will be spent on construction. It will be funded by a combination of debt (70 per cent) and equity (30 per cent). Currently, the Uttar Pradesh government has directed UPIEDA to prepare the detailed project report for the Ganga Expressway project, so that it is put before the cabinet for approval. Besides, the state government has allocated Rs 20 billion for construction of the project in its budget for 2020-21.

Hurdles in implementation

Although the project received state cabinet approval in January 2019, its journey has not been without its share of hurdles. The project was first proposed in 2007 by the state government, which had planned to construct the expressway between Greater Noida and Ballia, spanning a total length of 1,047 km. Expected to be the longest in the country, the expressway was to be constructed in two phases, with Phase I involving construction of the expressway between Meerut and Prayagraj. Under Phase II, two extensions were proposed to be built, one on the eastern end and the other on the western end. A 110 km extension would link the western end of the expressway in Meerut to the state’s boundary with Uttarakhand, near Haridwar, while its eastern end in Prayagraj would be linked to Ballia near the border with Bihar, via a 300 km extension passing through Varanasi and Ghazipur. It was proposed to be built by UPIEDA in collaboration with concessionaire Jaypee Associates in the public-private partnership mode. However, after a non-government organisation challenged the alignment of the project, the Allahabad High Court quashed the environmental clearance for the project in 2009, stating that the expressway project did not conform to the provisions of the Environment Protection Act. It was alleged that the alignment of the proposed expressway was too close to the Ganga river’s channel and that construction of the expressway that close to the river channel would damage its floodplains. Later, agitations by local farmers against land acquisitions on the route of the expressway held up the project, work on which was expected to begin over 11 years ago, in 2008.

The project witnessed a revival in January 2019, when the state government announced the implementation of a similar project. In order to make compliance with environmental laws easier, the Uttar Pradesh government decided to shift the alignment of the expressway 10 km away from the river channel. Finally, on January 30, 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government approved the revised Phase I of the project that will span a length of 628 km between Meerut and Prayagraj.

Upcoming expressways

The upcoming Ganga Expressway is one of the Uttar Pradesh government’s most ambitious expressway projects to enhance connectivity between the state’s rural and urban areas. The foundation stone for the expressway was expected to be laid by end 2020 and the project was expected to be completed by 2024. However, given the current state of affairs with the COVID-19 outbreak, these timelines seem far-fetched.

In addition to the Ganga Expressway, UPIEDA has several other expressway projects on the anvil. The 296 km four-lane access-controlled Bundelkhand Expressway project was conceived by the state government in April 2017, in a move to connect the interior regions of the state. The expressway’s alignment was finalised in May 2018, while the project received administrative approval on August 21, 2019. On February 29, 2020, the central government laid the foundation stone for the project. The expressway will originate from Chitrakoot district and will traverse through the districts of Banda, Hamirpur and Auraiya. The expressway will end near Kudrail village near State Highway-91, to meet the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. The project is being implemented on an engineering, procurement and construction basis in six packages at a total cost of Rs 148.5 billion. While the 48.9 km Package I and the 50.3 km Package II have been awarded to APCO Infratech Limited, the 49 km Package III has been awarded to AshokaBuildcon Limited. The 51 km Package IV and the 50 km Package V have been awarded to Gawar Construction Limited, while the 45.3 km Package VI has been awarded to DilipBuildcon Limited. Another ambitious project, the Gorakhpur Link Expressway project is also lined up for laying of the foundation stone. The state government has urged UPIEDA to fast-track land acquisition for the project. The 91 km expressway is estimated to cost Rs 45.87 billion (including land cost of Rs 15.64 billion). It has been awarded in two packages to ApcoInfratech Limited and DilipBuildcon Limited. The proposed expressway will span the districts of Gorakhpur, SantKabir Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar and Azamgarh.

Meanwhile, the state government is planning to throw open the main carriageway of the under-construction Purvanchal Expressway for light vehicles by December 2020, while the remaining work will continue for full commissioning of the project. The 340 km expressway project has been divided into eight packages and awarded to different companies for ensuring time-bound completion. Gayatri Projects Limited has secured Packages I and II, while Package III has been awarded to ApcoInfratech Private Limited. Further, the contract for Packages IV and VII was secured by GR Infraprojects Limited, while Packages V and VI have been awarded to PNC Infratech Limited, and Oriental Structural Engineers Private Limited has bagged Package VIII. The project runs across the districts of Lucknow, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ambedkarnagar, Amethi, Sultanpur, Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur and is expected to provide seamless connectivity between the backward eastern districts of the state to the National Capital Region via the already operational Agra-Lucknow Expressway and the Agra-Greater Noida Yamuna Expressway. Estimated to cost Rs 233.5 billion, including land costs, the expressway will also have an emergency airstrip for Indian Air Force jets at Kurebhar (Sultanpur). Under its 2020-21 budget, the state government has allocated Rs 3 billion for the project.

In another notable move, the Uttar Pradesh government has acquired nearly 3,500 acres of land for its flagship Defence Corridor project, which is estimated to attract public and private sector investment to the tune of Rs 200 billion. The project was announced by the central government in Union Budget 2018-19. The foundation stone for the project was laid by the central government on February 15, 2019. While Lucknow, Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Aligarh, Kanpur and Agra were proposed as the six nodes of the Defence Corridor project, the interest it has evoked prompted the state government to notify another three nodes in Meerut, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar districts. The project is being implemented in Bundelkhand given the availability of cheap land and the existence of a strong ancillary base in the region. It is one of the two defence corridors being built to meet the modernisation needs of the Indian armed forces, with the second one coming up in Tamil Nadu.

In addition to these, UPIEDA is planning to implement numerous other expressways in the state, including the Prayag Expressway, the Bijnore-Moradabad-Fatehgarh Expressway, the Jhansi-Kanpur-Lucknow-Gorakhpur-Kushinagar Expressway, an eight-lane access-controlled expressway along the right bank of the upper Ganga canal, the Lucknow-Barabanki-Nanpara Link Expressway, the Agra-Kanpur Expressway and the Narora-Uttarakhand Expressway. Timely and hindrance-free completion of these projects is imperative for the development of an ambitious expressway network in Uttar Pradesh. This will not only help in bringing about a significant reduction in travel time between cities, making road transportation more efficient, but will also enhance connectivity to rural areas. However, there is a need to tackle issues related to institutional mechanisms as well as land acquisition and funding in a time-bound manner for the successful implementation of these projects.

Rolica Bhatnagar

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