New Delhi: The central government is ready to completely fund the ambitious, Rs30,000 crore Purvanchal Expressway aimed at providing road connectivity to eastern Uttar Pradesh, transport minister Nitin Gadkari said.
The project holds a special significance for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government because of substantive representation from the region in the Lok Sabha, which include Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi. The state is key to the BJP’s chances in the 2019 general elections, the party having won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats from the state in the last general election.
According to the preliminary plan, the Union ministry for road transport and highways will finance the six-lane, 350-km road project because the state government is unable to bear the cost. The project will require 4,478 hectares of land across 411 villages and will span nine districts—Lucknow, Barabanki, Amethi, Sultanpur, Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur.
Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said in an interview the central government’s National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) could take up the project—the largest infrastructure scheme for the fund-starved state after the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath became chief minister.
Politically, for the BJP, the marque project is being viewed as a measure of its commitment to infrastructure development to match the 300-km Agra-Lucknow Expressway built under the previous Samajwadi Party (SP) rule. In March this year, the BJP formed its first government in Uttar Pradesh in nearly 15 years, with the party winning 312 seats of the 403-seat state assembly.
“Yes, we are in talks with the Uttar Pradesh government for Purvanchal Expressway and I would be soon meeting chief minister Yogi Adityanath to take a decision," Gadkari said.
The project is also an attempt to woo industries and is expected to play a significant role on the economic landscape of UP, the third largest state economy in India that contributes 8.4% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Industrial townships are being planned along the expressway to provide jobs for the youth and market access for farmers.
“The UP government has lots of stake on this project and since there are no funds, the centre is ready to foot the bills. The area holds huge importance. Even in the recent Union cabinet reshuffle the state’s importance was reflected," said a senior Union government official requesting anonymity.
The BJP’s focus on UP is also reflected in the new ministers inducted into the central cabinet during its expansion earlier this month, with Satya Pal Singh and Shiv Pratap Shukla being made ministers of state in the ministries of human resource development and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation; and the finance ministry respectively.
The project has already received in-principle approval from the NITI Aayog during a meeting with Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) officials last month.
UPEIDA on its part has stepped up efforts for land acquisition.
“We have already purchased around 67% of land (2,703 hectares) and have released funds to the tune of Rs4,500 crore to all the districts for the payments. The total land cost is around Rs7,000 crore and we are hopeful to complete the process of land acquisition as early as possible," said Om Prakash Pathak, officer on special duty for land acquisition at UPEIDA.
The project has been planned in the context of UP’s industrial policy roadmap, which involves creating land banks, promoting country-specific industrial parks to attract foreign direct investment and helping set up private industrial parks around Lucknow-Kanpur, Kanpur-Allahabad and Varanasi-Allahabad zones.