After several hurdles in 2020, Delhi govt hopes to launch key infra projects by March next year

New Delhi: The government hopes to launch several key infrastructure projects expected to decongest some of the most traffic heavy stretches such as Ashram Chowk in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic and several other reasons forced the agencies to push deadlines and face escalation in costs.

As work has picked up again, officials in the Public Works Department (PWD) said the agency hopes to launch three long-awaited projects — Ashram underpass, the tunnel road at Pragati Maidan and the Benito-Juarez Road underpass — by March 2021.

PWD officials said the pace of construction remained very poor throughout the year due to various reasons ranging from the nationwide lockdown and exodus of migrants leading to a lack of labour, the ban on construction imposed because of the air pollution levels to riots in north-east Delhi. The agency had to push deadlines of at least five important ongoing infrastructure projects in the city, of which three were to be made operational this year.

Some of the important projects where deadlines were pushed include the tunnel road near Pragati Maidan, Ashram Underpass, Shastri Park and Seelampur flyovers, Benito-Juarez Road underpass and Barapullah phase-3 elevated road. Two flyovers at Shastri Park and Seelampur were opened in September this year, five months after their scheduled opening date.

Delhi PWD minister Satyendar Jain said, “From the very first day of the Covid pandemic, the Delhi government is fighting the situation very carefully. On one side, due to the pandemic, there has been a shortage of labourers which has affected some of the works, on the other hand the Delhi government is completely prepared to deal with the situation and trying its best to meet all the timelines.”

PWD officials said that the year started with assembly elections in Delhi which also affected construction and planning of projects due to model code of conduct being in place for the polls. It was followed by riots in north-east Delhi which affected the progress of infrastructure projects in that part of the city. And, then the pandemic hit the city when in march, Delhi reported its first case.

By the end of the month, entire country was placed under a 21-days lockdown to contain the virus which was further extended. The construction activities remained completely suspended for almost two months in Delhi. Though work resumed in May end but the progress remained tardy because of shortage of labourers as tens of thousands of workers returned to their hometowns.

The officials said that after lockdown norms were eased and before construction could pick up, monsoon arrived. Officials say that the pace of construction activities slows down in rainy season. The slow pace of construction work continued due to restrictions due to air pollution after Diwali in the city.

S Velmurugan, chief scientist, traffic engineering and safety division, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), said, “This year has not been good for infrastructure projects in the national capital as projects got delayed and missed deadlines due to coronavirus pandemic, nationwide lockdown, labour shortage. The authorities should have made additional arrangements such as additional man power at least towards the end of the year to make up for the time loss.”

He also said that such delays are would not only translate in escalation of construction cost but also lead to traffic snarls for longer periods and ultimately giving rise to pollution.

He added that important projects such as construction of 1.2km long tunnel near Pragati Maidan and Ashram underpass should have been treated more seriously as they aim to decongest traffic bottlenecks at Ashram, Ring Road, ITO and Matura Road. The traffic mess at Ashram, ITO and parts of Mathura road is a perennial problem for the traffic police.

Some important infrastructure projects that the city couldn’t see this year are:

Ashram underpass project:

This most awaited project envisages construction of a 750-metre-long underpass along Mathura Road at busy Ashram crossing, an important link between central and south Delhi with the satellite towns of Noida and Faridabad. The intersection connects Mathura Road and the Ring Road (linking Lajpat Nagar-Sarai Kale Khan and DND Flyover). During peak hours, massive jams are common on Mathura Road and Ashram flyover. It is one of the busiest intersection in Delhi.

The estimated cost of underpass is Rs 78 crore. The foundation stone of the project was laid by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on December 24, 2019 and it was to be completed in a year’s time.

According to PWD officials, initially the deadline to complete work was December 2020 but that it is likely to be extended by around three to four months as work couldn’t be carried out at desired pace.

“The construction moved at snail’s pace initially due to protests at Shaheen Bagh and later it was stopped due to lockdown. Even after the work was resumed in May end, the progress was slow because of labour shortage and then due to monsoon and pollution restrictions. We hope to complete the construction work by March 2021,” the PWD official said.

Tunnel road at Pragati Maidan

Under this project, the PWD is constructing a 1.2-km-long tunnel and six underpasses to ease travel to India Gate and parts of central Delhi from different corners of the city especially from east Delhi, Noida, and Ghaziabad. The project cost is around Rs 777 crore. The work on the project was started in March 2018 and it was to be completed by September 2019. This deadline was extended to June 2020 due to the complexities involved in the construction work. The June deadline was also pushed to December 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdown. Officials said that this deadline has again been extended by three months.

“This year hardly any construction activity could be carried out at the desired pace due to lockdown and pollution restrictions. We are in the last leg of the construction work. We had to reschedule our deadlines due to coronavirus pandemic. We are hoping to complete the remaining work by March 2021,” another PWD official said.

The tunnel will start near National Sports Complex of India (NSCI) on Purana Qila Road and culminate on the Ring Road near Pragati Power station passing underneath the Pragati Maidan.

Once the tunnel is functional, motorists travelling from Noida, Ghaziabad and south and east Delhi will have a signal-free access to India Gate, Mathura Road and vice-versa.

Benito-Juarez Road underpass

The project includes construction of a three-lane underpass, near Venkateswara College, in south Delhi connecting Benito Juarez Road with San Martin Road. The dual access one-way underpass will start near Springdales School on Benito Juarez Road and will pass under the South Campus Metro station on the Ring Road. One arm of the underpass will go to San Martin Road while the other will open on Ring Road towards Moti Bagh. The work on the project had started in April 2015 and was to be completed in October 2017. It missed several deadlines and its latest deadline was October 2020 which was missed again due to slow pace of work this year.

“The project was initially delayed due to shifting of utilities, and the complex nature of construction work. Later it was delayed by the construction bans imposed due to Covid-19 lockdown, labour shortage and pollution restrictions,” an official said associated with the project said. The official said that the latest deadline is March 2021.

The facility aims to reduce travel time from the airport to central Delhi and AIIMS by 20 minutes and 15 minutes, respectively.

Barapullah Phase-3 elevated corridor

The 3km elevated corridor aims to provide seamless connectivity between Mayur Vihar-I and Sarai Kale Khan, where it will meet the existing Barapullah-I elevated corridor, making the nearly 9.5km journey to AIIMS signal free. According to PWD officials, construction of the corridor had begun in 2015, and was scheduled to be completed in October 2017, but the project progressed tardily because of the 8.5 acre (750 m) land and issues related to its acquisition.

Officials said that the progress of land acquisition was affected due to model code of conduct in the beginning of the year and later due to coronavirus pandemic as the district administration was busy on managing different jobs related to Covid-19 pandemic.

“Shortage of labour immediately after lockdown also impacted progress of the work. It was later slowed down due to monsoon and high water level in Yamuna during rainy season. It would take at least a year-and-a-half to finish work after the land is acquired and handed over to them for construction. We are hoping to complete it by March 2022,” the official said.

The corridor will also decongest key stretches of nearby areas such as Ring Road, Delhi-Noida-Direct flyway, NH-24, Noida Link Road.

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