Junagadh bypass alignment was changed from 7.9 km to 20 km at the behest of powerful landed interests with political clout

Rural women protest against the new 20-km-long alignment of Junagadh bypass
Rural women protest against the new 20-km-long alignment of Junagadh bypass

“Junagadh Bypass: A Fact Finding Report”, prepared by a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) team, finds that the project is contentious, with farmers of the area who have organised under the banner of the Khedut Hit Rakshak Samiti (KHRS or Committee for Farmers’ Rights) resisting it on the ground that the proposed bypass has been sanctioned illegally, contravening the norms and regulations to favour a few politicians, and is thereby going to deprive them of their fertile agricultural land and livelihood. Text of the report:

The study tour was undertaken on October 6, 2014 by a four‐member team comprising Gautam Thakar, General Secretary, PUCL; Persis Ginwalla, development sector professional; Mahesh Pandya, Director, Paryavaran Mitra; and Sagar Rabari, Gujarat Khedut Samaj. The study team drove to the site of the bypass, drove on the existing highway and went to the site of the proposed bypass, as well as the fields with the standing crop, of groundnut, cotton and coriander seed, which are to be acquired for the proposed by‐pass.

The study team met with the agitating farmers and their families in village Vadhavi, where about 200 men and women were present. The study team also perused the “Feasibility cum Preliminary Design for 4/6 Laning of Jetpur-Somnath Section of NH 8D”, prepared by LEA Associates South Asia Pvt Ltd, New Delhi.

The issue

There is already a road from Jetpur city to Somnath city. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) wanted to upgrade the transport infrastructure to Somnath, which is a pilgrimage and tourist hub. NHAI first approved the alignment on the Jetpur‐Somnath NH No 8D (Junagadh bypass) after detailed study and procedure, under which the existing two‐lane highway was to be converted into four‐lane of 7.9 km. The study report was submitted by the consultancy firm on November 23, 2009. Subsequently, the NHAI also held a public hearing on the same and the people of the area did not have any objection to this and the project stood approved.

In 2010, when the staff of the NHAI came to the fields for site measurement, the farmers came to know that their fields were being measured for a bypass which was in the original plan submitted to the NHAI, and for which the public hearing was done. When they inquired they found that the original alignment as per the 2009 report of LEA Associates South Asia to NHAI was changed, and another one, of 20 km was proposed and approved. This latter change was neither notified nor was any public hearing held for it.

We have reason to believe that the change in the alignment from 7.9 km bypass to 20 km bypass was done at the behest of some powerful persons with political power who hold huge tracts of land here, as per the documents given to us by the affected farmers. Their land was to be acquired for the purpose of the 7.9 km bypass. Due to the proposed acquisition, these politicians used their influence with NHAI and ministries in the Central government, which resulted in a change in the alignment so that the land of the said politicians does not have to be acquired.

Queries under the RTI Act have revealed the fact that such petitions were indeed made by the politicians. The crux of the KHRS argument is that the state is colluding to protect the interests of politicians while turning a blind eye to the suffering of small farmers at the cost to the exchequer.

No need for the 4‐lane highway

The traffic on the existing highway does not merit the construction of a new highway. Moreover, the proposed highway is not in an industrial or urban area, and ends at Somnath. The findings of the Final Feasibility Report as to traffic are:

  • Average daily traffic on project corridor varies from a minimum of 5815 vehicles (8810 passenger car units or PCU) recorded on Keshod to Gadu section, to a maximum of 14941 vehicles (19624 PCU) on Junagadh to Keshod section;
  • The non‐motorized vehicles have a very small share in the total vehicular composition (maximum 3.7%);
  • Peak hour traffic as a percentage of average daily traffic varies between 4.4% and 6.5% indicating fairly uniform distribution of traffic over the day;
  • The traffic count at km 127 was conducted to appreciate the traffic leading to Somnath temple; main interaction of passenger traffic has been recorded at this location with a very less percentage of goods traffic (1.1%);
  • The traffic at two locations falling on the influence corridor, Rajkot‐Porbandar (NH8B) varies widely between 6691 vehicles (13843 PCU) and 11999 vehicle (19948 PCU) at km 111.9 and km 119+ respectively, and;
  • The traffic intercepted on Porbandar‐Gadu section of NH 8E is 8767 vehicles (9216 PCU) and on Veraval‐Bhavnagar section of NH 8E is 14629 vehicles (21475 PCU).

junagadh2Cost – human and monetary

It is also clear that the revised alignment is neither in the interest of the public nor of the public exchequer. Looking at the food security of the nation, wasting 177 ha of highly fertile land, yielding 3 crops annually, seems like a waste of national resource.

Quality of land to be acquired

The NHAI report mentioned that the land which would be required to be acquired is of low quality and yield. However, on first‐hand inspection it was found to be high‐yielding fertile land, on which the owners take 3 crops of groundnut, cotton, sesame, cumin, coriander, and seasonal vegetables annually.

Environmental impact

The environmental impacts are also not insignificant. The longer route will mean more carbon emissions. The clearing of the vegetative cover will mean that the increased emissions would not be fully absorbed resulting in increased temperatures and an adverse impact on the overall environment and biome of the area.

Objections raised by MPs/MLAs

 We have gone through the letters written by the MPs/MLAs to the Ministry of Road Transport and their objections to the proposed bypass (7.9 km). While most of the 4 objections have been answered in the report, we found it important to examine the claims of the final objection, viz. the National Highways Act prohibiting the construction of highways within 1 km of city limits. We have perused the National Highways Act and have not found any such provision in the said Act.

Conclusion

Upon examination of the present road and the fields from which the proposed bypass is to be carved we are of the opinion that the present highway is sufficient to meet the needs of the traffic flow. There is no need to carve a bypass; the existing bypass road may, however, be widened on the existing available land, which would be sufficient for the traffic needs for a long time. This will be more economical since a fresh road need not have to be built. This will also mean that less agricultural land will have to be diverted for a non‐agricultural purpose, retaining the families in agricultural operations, which is their desire and requirement, thus averting the disastrous consequences like displacement, loss of livelihood and related issues like malnutrition, disrupted education and physical ailments.

Recommendation

Based on the above narrative, our recommendation is to retain the present highway, which needs to be resurfaced as there are stretches which are potholed. Once the road is resurfaced and (for which land is already available) it would be sufficient for traffic needs. If at all there is a need for widening the existing road, that too can be easily undertaken as there is sufficient land on either side of the road for that purpose.

If at all a bypass is needed for any purpose, then the initially proposed 7.9 km bypass is the next best alternative which may be explored.

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