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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fate of projects PM Modi was to flag off in Punjab now uncertain

On January 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to lay the foundation stones of projects worth 42,750 crore in Punjab, but following a breach in his security, the PM had to cancel his engagements and return to Delhi. Now, with the model code of conduct in place till a new government takes over and with a row raging between the Centre and the state government over the security breach, the fate of these projects, many of which were announced earlier and were stuck, is up in the air all over again pending the inauguration.

While the PM was to physically lay the foundation stone of the Rs 490-crore PGI satellite centre at Ferozepur, the remaining projects were to be inaugurated virtually from Ferozepur.

The Indian Express examined these projects and found that all of them were either in the stage of tender allotment or land acquisition, though civil works were yet to begin. While the PGI satellite centre and two upcoming medical colleges — in Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala — are to be funded by the Centre and state government in a 60:40 ratio, the remaining projects are Centrally funded.

The biggest of these projects is the 669-km-long Delhi-Amritsar-Katra (DAK) Expressway worth Rs 39,500 crore. The longest stretch of this expressway — nearly 400 km of it — will pass through Punjab. The highway, once ready, is expected to reduce travel time between Amritsar and Delhi to six-and-a-half hours from the present eight hours that the Vande Bharat train takes.

The expressway proposes to pass through the religious sites of Goindwal Sahib, Khadoor Sahib, Taran Taran, Dera Baba Nanak, Kartarpur Sahib and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and is expected to boost economic activity in districts such as Ambala, Mohali, Sangrur, Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Kathua.

R P Singh, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) Manager for North region, said, “For DAK expressway, work has been awarded for all the 10 slots, but civil work is yet to commence.” Sources said the 10 slots make up around 580 km.

Another project the PM was to inaugurate is the four-laning of the 77-km-long Amritsar-Una highway at a cost of Rs 1,700 crore. NHAI had called for bids for this project in February 2019. Here too, work was yet to start.

R P Singh said, “Work has been awarded for two packages of the Amritsar-Ghoman-Tanda expressway. The civil work is yet to start.”

Construction of a 27-km railway line from Mukerian to Talwara in Hoshiarpur district is another of the projects waiting for a formal inauguration. Hoshiarpur Deputy Commissioner Apneet Riyat said, “Land acquisition for this project is going on and work is in progress.”

The project has an emotional appeal for local residents. From 1961-1974, while the Pong dam was being built in Nangal, there was a rail link in the same location meant to transport goods for the dam construction. But once the dam was completed, it fell into disuse. The Talwara till Gamrur stretch was partially operational till 1994, after which the railway line was razed and the material was auctioned off. Residents of the area have been seeking the restoration of this railway line.

Railways sources said Rs 411 crore was sanctioned for the project in August 2021 and that they had aimed to complete it in 30 months.

The PGI satellite centre in Ferozepur, a 100-bed hospital whose foundation stone laying ceremony the PM was to attend, was announced by the UPA government in 2013, a year before the Lok Sabha elections brought the BJP to power at the Centre. It has taken almost eight years for land acquisition and other formalities to be completed for the 45-acre project that has a sanctioned cost of Rs 490 crore. Last year, a boundary wall came up.

The PM was to also lay the foundation stones for two medical colleges, one in Hoshiarpur and the other in Kapurthala, both with 100 seats and worth Rs 325 crore each.

The Kapurthala college was announced by the Centre in November 2019 while the Hoshiarpur medical college in January 2020. In April last year, it was stated that the then Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh would lay the foundation stone of the Hoshiarpur medical college in July 2021, but it did not happen. Both medical colleges projects are in the land acquisition stage.

O P Soni, Deputy CM Punjab who also holds the Health Portfolio, said the projects for which the PM was to lay the foundation stones had all been announced earlier. “Yes, these had already been announced by the Central government and are not brand new. However, so far we have not been conveyed anything on these projects. Moreover, the model code of conduct is in place in Punjab now and whatever has to happen will happen after the polls. From what I saw on television, the PM’s programmes have been postponed, not cancelled. This was revealed by the Union Health minister on the same day itself via television channels. Let’s see when the PM comes next.”

Anil Sarin, chief spokesperson of the BJP’s Punjab unit, said, “It’s true that the projects were announced at one or the other. But if the foundation laying ceremony had taken place, civil work would have started irrespective of the code of conduct. This would have generated employment in Punjab and economic activity would have increased. But due to the Congress’s petty politics, the people of Punjab have been deprived of the benefits of these projects. The projects have been delayed, but they will be completed for sure as the PM is committed to the development of Punjab.”

The projects

PGI satellite centre, Ferozepur. Cost: Rs 490 cr

Delhi-Amritsar-Katra (DAK) Expressway. Cost: Rs 39,500 cr

Four-laning of 77-km-long Amritsar-Una highway. Cost: Rs 1,700 cr

Railway line from Mukerian to Talwara. Cost: over Rs 410 cr

Medical colleges in Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala. Cost: Rs 325 cr each

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