A few hours before the all-party meeting called by the Kerala government to consider people’s opposition to the proposal to widen two national highways in the State on BOT (build, operate, transfer) basis, representatives of people engaged in movements against the proposal began a day-long dharna outside the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.
According to media reports, Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan decided to call today's all-party meeting after three ministers, G. Sudhakaran, C. Divakaran and N. K. Premachandran, drew his attention at a Cabinet meeting to the agitations at different places along the highways against the proposal.
These ministers represent constituencies through which the coastal highway runs. People started agitating against the proposal in these constituencies five years ago. As officials took up acquisition of land up to 45 meters in width in pursuance of the BOT proposal there was tension at many places. But it is only now that the ministers have taken note of the situation.
Representatives of the agitating groups called on the leaders of all parties before the all-party meeting and reiterated their total opposition to the BOT proposal. They pointed out that acquisition of 45 meters was not necessary as four or even six lanes according to the specifications laid down by the government can be built in 30 meters. Except in a few places the government has already in its possession up to 30 meters of land.
The NH 17 Kerala State Action Council placed before them an alternative proposal which will make it possible to widen the highway without dislocating large masses of people. The following are the salient points made by them in a written memorandum:
1. Build four-lane path immediately in the 30 meter wide land already acquired.
2. Up to six lanes can be built in 30 meters. The move to acquire 45 meters is meant to satisfy the BOT partner, whose entry will mean privatization of the highway.
3. Now the cost of bus travel is Rs. 5 for every 10 kilometers. It will double if there is a BOT road.
4. Population density in the areas through which the highways pass in the State is between 2,000 and 3,000 per square kilometer. The highway expansion project report says widening of a one-kilometer stretch will affect 310 families, 1,076 people and 51 buildings. This means along the 840 kilometers of NH 47 and NH as many as 17 257,300 families, 903,840 people and 42,840 buildings will be affected. Actually twice as many families, people and buildings will be affected.
5. By an order dated 18.10.2007 the government has frozen building activity up to a width of 90 meters along the highways. The people cannot build houses or shops in this area. This will destroy the small businesses.
6. The government is to give 40 per cent of the construction cost to the BOT partner as grant. The contractor will be able to cook up figures and do the entire work with the money provided by the government with no investment from his side.
A sketch prepared by the action council shows how a six-lane path can be built in 30 meters. With 3.5 meters specified for a lane, the land required for six lanes is 21 meters. The median will take up 1.5 meters. That still leaves enough for a paved shoulder 1.5 meter wide and a footpath-cum-utility of 2.25 meters on either side.