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The Centre has terminated the project to four-lane the Mamallapuram-Puducherry stretch of the East Coast Road (ECR). The project to widen and develop the 105-km portion of the National Highways (NH-332A) was taken up at an estimated cost of over ₹3,000 crore under the Bharatmala Pariyojana.
In an April 8, 2022 letter to Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) chairperson Alka Upadhyaya said the State did not respond to the two letters sent earlier by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the NHAI in February and March respectively, requesting to expedite the issue of a no objection certificate for handing over the stretch for development.
“As there is no response, NHAI construes that the Government of Tamil Nadu is not inclined to hand over the above road. In these circumstances, NHAI is constrained to foreclose the awarded works (Package I & II) and close the ongoing pre-construction activities of Package-III,” Ms. Upadhyaya said.
The NHAI planned to four-lane the stretch for enhanced speed and safety after it was notified as National Highways in 2018. However, the work never commenced for want of the no objection certificate from the State.
Official sources said the impediment to issuing the no objection certificate was the demand of Tamil Nadu Road Development Corporation (TNRDC) for payment of ₹222.94 crore from the NHAI for handing over the road. The TNRDC, which is maintaining the road and collecting toll, said the money was to settle bank term loans and compensate for future revenue. However, the then Highways Secretary, at a meeting held on March 3, 2020, made it clear that the stretch would be handed over to the NHAI without any charge or fee. He also said the State would take a suitable decision on the payment sought by the TNRDC. The NHAI made it clear that National Highways were usually handed over to the Centre without any liability, the sources said.
The TNRDC insisted on compensation, saying it had availed itself of the term loans by hypothecating all its assets, including the concessional rights of ECR and its future revenue.
Meanwhile, sources at the Secretariat said that three days after the NHAI wrote terminating the project, the State government accorded the no objection certificate but reiterated that the issue of sharing liabilities be taken up at the highest level in the NHAI and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.