Software executive Sachit Kumar sighs about the delay in the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project (BMICP). Only if the 111 km Bangalore-Mysore Expressway, which is part of the BMICP, is completed would he be able to enjoy his weekend drive to Mysore which now takes four hours from Bangalore. Once the project is over, it will take him just one hour and a half hours to cover the same distance. Billed as one of India's most comprehensive build- own-operate-transfer (boot) road projects, BMICP is expected to be completed by April 2007. But there are several roadblocks on the way.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|GOING IN CIRCLES? A view of the expressway under construction |
Eco-activists and several political bigwigs led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda have sought a probe into the running of the project, which has been halted temporarily by an order of the Supreme Court. They have accused the company developing the project of violating environmental regulations and amassing land beyond requirement.
In this unique public-private partnership, the Karnataka Government is facilitating the acquisition of land for the project, and the private company Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) is investing the money for the project.
NICE was formed by the Kalyani Group of Companies and SAB International to develop the BMICP. As the owners of this project, NICE will implement the project and operate it after its completion.
The Bangalore-Mysore Expressway was conceived to fight congestion in India's it capital by providing entrepreneurs an opportunity to move capital and investments to cities outside Bangalore and to townships along the road. With a population of nine million and booming vehicular traffic, there is a breakdown of civic infrastructure in the metropolis. Narrow roads and power and water shortages have only compounded difficulties. The project includes a 41 km peripheral road that will connect the expressway to NH4 (Bangalore-Pune) and NH7 (Bangalore-Hosur).
|THE PACT: The state government doesn't invest a single rupee on the project but gets back about 60 per cent of the fully developed area for Re 1 at the end of 30-year concession period. The government will also earn Rs 3,000 crore in yearly taxes and other revenues in the 30-year period. |
MONEY MATTERS: It is the only mega BOOT project costing Rs 2,200 crore, covering 20,193 acres.
IN TOTO: BMICP comprises the expressway, a 41 km peripheral road linking NH4 and NH 7, a 9 km link road, a 3 km elevated road, 16 interchanges and five townships between the two cities
TRIGGER FACTOR: BMICP paved the way for other private BOOT projects in India by amending 18 legislations.
|LONGEVITY: This project has involved a gestation period of 10 years and has seen four chief ministers and five PWD ministers in the state. |
A 9.1 km link road will connect Bangalore city centre to the expressway. The development of five townships has also been planned, covering nearly 20,000 acres of land in Bangalore, Mandya and Mysore districts.
The BMICP, whose road trip began with the signing of the MoU between the then Karnataka chief minister Deve Gowda and Massachusetts governor Bill Weld in 1995, has never had a smooth ride.
Eco-activists have flagged down the project several times, charging NICE with environmental breaches.
They have also accused the Congress-led government in the state of acquiring more land than required for the purpose.
Undeterred by all this, NICE Managing Director Ashok Kheny, 55, has consistently pushed for clearances of files for the project for more than 10 years. "This is the biggest boot project in India and has received all the environmental clearances. We are planning to restore 251 lakes and ponds. The promoters have made upfront investment of more than Rs 300 crore without a single paise in return." (see box)
The most recent hurdle for NICE came when the Supreme Court on May 13, 2005 stayed the prosecution of Karnataka chief secretary and his deputy for committing perjury before the Karnataka High Court in the Rs 2,250 crore expressway project case. The apex court stayed the May 3 high court judgement quashing the state Government's order constituting an expert committee and a review panel to reappraise the project.
The high court had directed NICE to expedite the project and asked the state Government to honour the enabling framework agreement it signed with NICE in 1997. It had also quashed the panel set up by the Government to probe whether irregularities had taken place in the allotment of land for the project being executed by NICE.
The apex court, while staying the high court's order, said the petitions challenging the order would be heard after the court resumes work in July.
Meanwhile, eco-activists such as Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group have claimed that there will be massive displacement because of the project. "There is no clear account of how thousands of families will be relocated," says Saldanha. Kheny says he has got all the clearances necessary for the project and has employed some best government agencies to get environmental clearances.
Deve Gowda has placed a barrier on the BMICP, accusing NICE of acquiring more land than needed. Says Gowda: "I am not opposed to the project. I am also not opposed to NICE executing the project. I am opposed to misappropriation of government and private land in the name of the project."
Commenting on the 1995 MoU, Gowda says that it was signed with a consortium of three foreign firms which had implemented major projects elsewhere (VHB, SAB Engineering, founded by Ashok Kheny and the Kalyani Group in India). Gowda says NICE was neither a party to the MoU nor is it a lawful inheritor of the rights. Gowda's son H.D. Revanna, who holds the PWD portfolio, says, "We don't want NICE to become a real-estate developer and we don't want them to get more land than required." Kheny denies the charges and says there is evidence to the contrary. "If there is roadblock after roadblock, this will not send good signals to investors abroad," he adds.
Karnataka Chief Minister Dharam Singh, public works minister in the S.M. Krishna government, had championed the BMICP. But as chief minister under Gowda's shadow he did a u-turn. "We are under pressure from the coalition partners," says Singh. The Government's flip-flop on the project has only slowed down the speed but Kheny is looking forward to the resumption of hearings in the Supreme Court next month.
"I have not given up yet," says Kheny. Neither has Deve Gowda, who armtwisted Singh into setting up a panel to probe the project's implementation. One only hopes that the project doesn't turn out to be a disastrous chapter in a tale of two cities.