Politicians put Kerala on road to disaster

 An all-party delegation led by the chief minister and the Opposition leader requested him to reduce the proposed expansion of NH 47 and NH 17, the lifelines of the state, from the minimum width requirement of 45 metres to 30 metres.
The delegation told the PM that over 15 lakh people, residing near the highways, would be affected if these two roads were expanded to 45 metres.

It would be worth remembering that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) prescribes an ideal width of 60 metres wherever possible in keeping with international standards. However, the ruling and Opposition coalitions and even the BJP have joined hands to herald half-baked development which would otherwise have changed the face of the state.

In fact, the NHAI has a different story to tell. According to the detailed project report prepared by it, the number of families to be evicted for widening NH 47 was 5,334 and for NH 17, it was 6,563. The number of houses to be demolished was 784 For NH 47 and 3,729 for  NH 17. The number of religious structures to be razed down in NH 47 would be 26 while for NH 17 it would be 130. The report pointed out that even if the width was fixed at 30 metres, the number of families to be evicted would be half these numbers.

Electoral politics
So, what is it that the politicians irrespective of their affiliations fear so much as to even override the public demand for developing the roads which have been choked to the brim? What makes these politicians ignore the large number of accidents happening on these highways? The answer is simple: the demands of electoral politics.
Experts point out that with the assembly elections just a year away, no political party is willing to risk the ire of voters from any corner. No party is willing to forsake its votebank for the sake of the state’s development. A month ago, a ‘hartal’ was organised all along the NH from Thiruvananthapuram to Cherthala in Alappuzha district in protest against alleged favouritism shown in land acquisition for the purpose.
But in an age when development has to get top priority, the state cannot shudder at such protests but be pragmatic enough to compensate the affected people. In this case, it is only natural for the government to allow market rates for the land acquired and do whatever is possible for the larger good.
Kerala has in all 1,524 sq km of National Highways which is roughly 2.5 per cent of  the total length of NH in the country. The degeneration of these roads has been a subject of intense discussion for many years.

Expressway
When a proposal for building an ‘Expressway’ from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasargod in the north came up some 10 years ago, it was vehemently opposed. Such a highway would have made it possible for a vehicle to travel from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod in about 5 hours instead of the 14 hours now.
What the delegation which met the prime minister has now done is try to scuttle even that possibility which would be seen as nothing short of Himalayan blunder.
Kerala’s high density of population and lack of vision of its  political leadership had made it impossible for planners to execute big development projects. However, the present political leadership of all parties seems to be doing even greater injustice by turning a blind eye to something the state should have done yesterday not to speak about the future. More than 5,000 lives perish every year on the state roads while the number of people who manage to survive and continue to live as vegetables with severed limbs are several folds that number.

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