Friday, 27 July 2012

Highways ministry ropes in plan panel to build Delhi-Jaipur expressway - The Times of India

For years, Planning Commission has been blaming the highways ministry for delays in road projects. Now, the ministry seems to be hitting back at the plan panel and has decided to rope in Gajendra Haldea, advisor to deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, to construct the Rs 12,000 crore Delhi-Jaipur expressway, in what is a first of its kind move.

Haldea, a retired bureaucrat, is known for his staunch stance on most infrastructure projects and is often criticized by fellow babus for making suggestions, without taking any responsibility for executing projects. Although highways minister C P Joshi wrote to Ahluwalia recently, the decision to get the plan panel on board for executing a greenfield project was taken by the entire ministry and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials.

The plan is to set up a team under Haldea to execute the project, for which land is yet to be acquired although the deadline for completing the project is three years. Highways ministry officials said the move was aimed at demonstrating the kind of hurdles faced during construction. "We are fed up with the advisory notes that we get periodically. Once they (plan panel) are involved in implementation of a project, they will understand the ground situation," a ministry official said.

The ministry has a history of feuds with the Planning Commission. It became public in July 2010 when former highways minister Kamal Nath described it as "armchair advisor", while questioning the quality of reports produced by the panel. "You (Planning Commission) collect something from here, something from there and produce a book. It is all very well when you are an armchair advisor," Nath had said, adding, "Book (report) should not only be well-bound, but it should have content also."

More recently, there were differences over a road project around Delhi and the amount of toll that should be levied. When contacted, Ahluwalia sought to play down the issue. "I received the letter recently in which the highways minister had asked me whether Haldea's services can be availed of by the ministry. I immediately agreed. I have received many such letters from other ministries too. Preparing a model concession agreement (MCA) is a key component of executing any project on public private partnership (PPP) mode and Haldea has expertise in that field. The minister probably wants to have a draft MCA prepared by Haldea," he said. He added that project implementation will be with the ministry.

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