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Government auditor reveals Dwarka Expressway's soaring costs, 14 times higher than sanctioned

Dwarka expressway

New Delhi: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the government's top auditor, has unveiled the cost of the Dwarka Expressway.

The expressway, designed to alleviate congestion on the NH-48 route between Delhi and Gurugram, has overshot the budget approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in 2017 by a staggering 14 times.

The report highlights that the Dwarka Expressway, a crucial component of the Centre's Bharatmala Pariyojana phase-1, was constructed at an exorbitant cost of Rs 250.77 crore per kilometer, whereas the CCEA-approved rate was Rs 18.20 crore per kilometer, reported NDTV. This scenario of budget mismatches isn't confined to the Dwarka Expressway alone. The report unveiled a pattern across India, indicating that sanctioned costs under the Bharatmala Pariyojana were, on average, 58% higher than the approved costs.

The CAG report further unveiled that out of the approved 34,800 km of national highways scheduled to be completed by 2022, only 13,499 km (38.79% of the approved length) were completed by March 31, 2023. The report attributed this delay to changes in project scope, richer project specifications, and other factors.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highway responded to this staggering cost differential by stating that the Dwarka Expressway was originally intended to be an eight-lane elevated corridor with minimal entry and exit points to facilitate smoother interstate traffic flow. This rationale was cited as the basis for the elevated per-kilometer cost. The expressway, envisioned as a 14-lane national highway to run parallel to NH-48, aims to ease traffic congestion between Delhi and Gurugram.

However, the CAG found no recorded justification for the planning and construction of eight elevated lanes for an average daily traffic of 55,432 passenger vehicles. The audit revealed that only six lanes (at-grade lanes) were initially planned and constructed for an average annual daily traffic of 2,32,959 passenger vehicles.

The discrepancies were not limited to fund management.

The report also highlighted non-adherence to the appraisal and approval mechanisms decided by the CCEA. Cases were cited where bidders failed to fulfill tender conditions or were selected based on falsified documents. Projects were awarded without approved detailed project reports or based on faulty ones.

Environmental concerns also arose, as many Bharatmala projects were executed without the requisite environmental clearances, contrary to prescribed procedures. Safety consultants were also not consistently ensured throughout the construction stages.

The CAG's report concluded by acknowledging the improvement in the pace of per-day project length construction under Bharatmala Pariyojana, which increased from 1.04 km in 2018-19 to 12.37 km in 2022-23.

A separate CAG report released on the same day revealed violations of toll rules in several states in southern India, resulting in an undue financial burden of Rs 154 crores on road users. These violations were primarily due to the non-implementation of NH Fee Amendment Rules 2013. Toll collection continued during the delayed construction period despite amended rules stipulating no user fees during such delays.

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