Centre justifies Dwarka Expressway cost rise amid claims of scam

The CAG has itself noted that the cost of construction of ₹18.2 per kilometre does not include the cost norms for flyovers, ring roads, etc: MoRTH on allegations of scam in Bharatmala Pariyojna

Dwarka Expressway scam

New Delhi: A week after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed out huge financial irregularities in the construction of roads by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the Central government resorted to defensive mode, claiming that it had saved 12% in construction cost against estimates in awarding contracts of Urban Extension Road-II or Dwarka Expressway.

A senior officer of the NHAI claimed that the CAG findings about huge cost in construction of Dwarka Expressway were misplaced, as the auditor did not factor in the actual cost.

According to the CAG, the NHAI decision to go for an elevated carriageway on the Haryana portion of the Dwarka Expressway pushed up the construction cost to ₹251 crore per kilometre against the earlier cost estimation of ₹18.2 crore per km. The audit report on the implementation of Phase-I of the Bharatmala Pariyojana‘ highway projects, triggered a political row with the opposition parties alleging corruption in the process of awarding the project.

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An official of the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) explained that all four packages of Dwarka Expressway were put for tender at an average civil cost of ₹206.39 crore per kilometre but the contracts were finally awarded at a lower rate of ₹181.94 crore per km. The average civil construction cost of the four packages of the expressway was 12% lower than the estimates, he added.

The officials also explained that the CAG has simply divided the total cost of construction of ₹91,000 crore under National Corridor Efficiency Programme with the project’s entire length of 5,000 kilometres under development. “The CAG has itself noted that the cost of construction of ₹18.2 per kilometre does not include the cost norms for flyovers, ring roads, etc. They are of the view that the expressway in question has elevated roads, underpasses, tunnels and other components which were not part of the project,” they added.

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The MoRTH official explained that the cost of ₹91,000 crore for 5,000 km under Bharatmala Phase-I project was finalised by the ministry in August 2016 for the vear 2016-17 to the extent possible. According to the ministry, the expressway is the country’s first eight-lane elevated road on single pier with four level interchange facility. It has eight-lane 3.6-km tunnel and another six-lane 2.4-km tunnel for connecting it with the Delhi airport. Besides, it has elevated service roads at major interchanges.

The MoRTH officials said that they would offer their explanation on cost escalation on the CAG findings, wherever the matter comes up for discussion in the Public Accounts Committee (PAG).

In its report last week, the CAG had said the Delhi-Vadodara Expressway and the Dwarka Expressway which could not be assessed by either CCEA or the MoRTH to have the advanilage of the scrutiny at that level. “Even the appraisal and approval mechanism decided by CCEA was also not strictly followed,” the CAG said.

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Smelling a huge scam in road construction, Congress party had alleged that the MoRTH and NHAI were grossly violating standard protocol to exorbitantly increase the project cost. “In the last few days, one has seen seven such cases that CAG has brought to light which smack of rampant corruption in this government. Scam after scam is being unearthed right under Mr Modi’s nose. But Mr Modi chooses to remain silent,” said Supriya Shrinate, chairman of the Congress’s social media and digital platforms wing, during a press conference at the party HQ in Delhi.

Speaking about the Centre’s flagship road development scheme, Bharatmala Pariyojana, Shrinate said that the cost of its construction has doubled to over Rs 32 crore per km from Rs 15.37 crore per km, according to the CAG report. She was referring to the CAG report on ‘Implementation of Phase-1 of Bharatmala Pariyojana’ released last month.

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She further added: “Tender process was also flawed. A detailed project report was never submitted. Money to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore was diverted from the escrow account. Safety consultants were not appointed. So you (the public) are responsible if you are travelling on any of the roads, not the government.”

Earlier, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had alleged that the Narendra Modi government has broken “all records of corruption” after the CAG of India reportedly flagged the “very high” construction cost of the Dwarka Expressway.

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