August 5, 2014
The Times of India (Delhi)
Biswendu.Bhattacharjee | Agartala
While the Delhi high court on Monday agreed to review its decision to ban e-rickshaws in the capital, Tripura has long brought these vehicles within the ambit of legislation and is probably the first state to do so.Replicating the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the state framed the `Tripura Battery Operated Rickshaws Rules 2014′ to regulate the movement of battery-operated rickshaws in urban areas of the state.The rules, notified in January , state that a driving licence is mandatory for e-rickshaw drivers, who must not be less than 20 years of age. It will be valid for three years, unless cancelled or suspended if the driver flouts rules.
The licence fee of the battery-operated rickshaws is Rs 300, renewal fee Rs 100, registration fee Rs 1,000 and trade certificate fee Rs 1,000. The operator has to pay Rs 100 as annual road tax.
The rules say engineers of urban local bodies of the rank of executive engineers must issue fitness certificates for the vehicles after a technical assessment.
Each battery-operated rickshaw will have to provide insurance cover to protect the riders. An e-rickshaw can seat four people at the most and can ply only within the jurisdiction of urban local bodies. Registration numbers will be provided once the applications are screened.
“We have notified 55 routes in which these rickshaws can operate. All fall within the Agartala Municipal Area. So far, we have received 531 applications from operators,“ said Agartala mayor Prafullajit Sinha.
For six months, these rickshaws had operated in Tripura cities without any registration and licence.
April 16, 2014
Hindustan Times (Delhi) |Vinod Rajput
NOIDA: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) to prepare a list of violations committed by the Centre as well as the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi in the allotment of land to various realtors for development.
As per the petitioner, NCR is facing issues such as traffic congestion and water crisis due to violations of NCRPB Act.The order came in response to a petition filed by a Noida resident, seeking restriction on the acquisition of farm land for urbanisation schemes in Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Gurgaon and other parts of the region. The plea has also accused the states’ development authorities of conniving with the Centre for earning commission and causing damage to the ecology and existing civic infrastructure.“The court has observed that all four states have violated the NCRPB Act while acquiring fertile plots and allotting them to realtors. So, it has questioned the board on the legal action it has taken against the violators. The NCRPB has to furnish the list of violators before July 15, the next date of hearing,” said Pramod Chaudhary, advocate of petitioner Raghuraj Singh.
As per the petitioner, the NCRPB has been sheltering the four states that have been unscrupulously acquiring fertile land and allotting them to realtors by tweaking or violating land use policies. And because of these violations, home buyers suffer a lot.
“In NCR, the land use control lies with NCRPB. But state governments have formed a nexus with the Centre to allot farmers’ land to realtors in Delhi’s adjoining cities — Noida, Greater Noida and Gurgaon among others, where land prices have shot up to a new high,” said Chaudhary.
The NCR is facing issues such as traffic congestion, water crisis, densely populated dingy localities, poor garbage mechanism and unauthorised colonies due to violations of the NCRPB Act 1985, the petitioner said, adding that the governments indulged in developing organised slums with no economic activity to offer employment opportunities for the youth.
“As per the NCRPB Act, states were supposed to build low-density economically and ecologically sustainable towns at a distance from Delhi to check unauthorised development. But officials and politicians nexus failed a well intentioned law,” Chaudhary said.
Officials of the NCRPB said that the petitioner has misinterpreted the Act.
November 29, 2013
Though information was procured instantly from NHAI regarding action after the Neera River deaths, the officer insisted on writing an application under Section 6 of the RTI Act
The unique part of Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch’s agitation on Wednesday morning was inspection of files under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch held a demonstration in front of the NHAI office before procuring documents under RTI. Nav Bharat members DVR Rao, Commander Ravindra Pathak (retd), Raja Narsimhan, Mahesh Tele, Omkar Virkar, Dhananjay Oval, Akash Jadhav, Mrs Sonawane, Hrushikesh Patankar and Prashant Salunke held the demonstrations. We wanted to procure following documents after the horrendous Neera River bridge tragedy of 2nd November, which killed four young ad professionals from Pune after their car plunged into the river in the absence of a crash barrier at the tip of the bridge:
1. Correspondence between NHAI and Reliance Infra (or whatever are the names of the sub contractors) regarding action on the repair of the Neera River bridge after submission of the Inspection Report of Neera Tragedy by your Safety Consultants, sometime last week.
2. Correspondence between NHAI, Pune and the central authority of NHAI/Union Ministry of surface, road and transport, regarding repair of the Neera Bridge to make it safe, post the November 2 tragedy.
3. Correspondence of the last one year, from NHAI Pune office to Reliance Infra pertaining to the condition of the highway road constructed by Reliance Infra in the 300 km odd Maharashtra portion of the stretch of the Mumbai-Bangalore highway
4. Photographs taken out by NHAI regarding the condition of the Maharashtra stretch of the Mumbai-Bangalore stretch which is under operation, maintenance and security of Reliance Infra
5. Documents pertaining to action taken by NHAI against Reliance Infra in the past one year for shoddy work.
6. Unlike Section 6 of the RTI Act, where you need to write a formal application and pay Rs10 in cash or through IPO for a central government office, no formal application is required to inspect files under Section 4.
7. Yet, this writer sent a previous intimation to Rajesh Kaundal, Project Director, NHAIstating: “I wish to bring to your notice that a citizen desiring to inspect the documents containing information covered under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, need not make any formal requisition under Section 6 of the Act because these documents should have already been published by the public authority so that citizens have ‘minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information’’
8. The contract given to Reliance Infra is clearly covered under `permits and authorisations’ and hence is covered under Section 4. I intend to exercise my right as a citizen to inspect these documents in your office with my colleagues during our peaceful protest today at your office between 11 am and 1 p m. Please note that it is not necessary for me under the Act to give such notice before inspection of documents covered under Section 4 of the Act. However, being a responsible citizen, I thought it appropriate to intimate you beforehand.’’
Despite this, Mr Kaundal replied to my email request stating: “Section 4 (1)(b) is designed to ensure that public authorities disclose certain information which are important to the public voluntarily at every level of operation. Please log on to www.nhai.org for the information published by NHAI.”
“For any other information requested in specific, it is requested to submit application to PIO with requisite fee so that the same can be made available to you within the stipulated time period including inspection of the documents for extraction of the information if required by you. In case of any difference of opinion, it is requested to contact CPIO on the following address:- VS Darbari, GM (Coord) & CPIO, National Highways Authority of India, No.G-5 & 6, Sector – 10, Dwarka, New Delhi – 110 075.Contact No.011-25074100 (Extn : 1520). Email : firstname.lastname@example.org.’’
The writer wrote back stating: “The information I have asked for comes under Section 4 of the RTI Act. However, it is not put up on your website, as far as I searched. In the absence, of you not having uploaded it in the public domain, that is uploaded on www.nhai.org, I, as a citizen, is allowed physical inspection of files in your office.’’
However, no amount of explanation convinced Mr Kaundal, when this writer met him in the office. He insisted that I file an application under Section 6 of the RTI Act and he has no problem about providing me information immediately. Since he assured me of immediate inspection of files, I relented. However, I am filing a complaint to the Information commissioner today, for not providing me information under Section 4.
It is so exasperating that, even after seven years of the implementation of the RTI Act, neither do most public authorities suo motu upload information under Section 4 on their respective websites and hesitate to allow physical inspection of files by citizens.
Amongst the several documents I procured, the following one is very worrying, as the contractor now says all major bridges from Dehu Road to Satara need crash barriers for safety but insists that the NHAI must pay for the repairs. And therein lies the ping-pong game of NHAI Pune sending this request to the Delhi office.
The details are as follows:
PS Toll Roads Pvt Ltd, the subsidiary agency of Reliance Infra has sent a letter to Project Director, NHAI on 25th November, stating that raising and strengthening of the Median wall (wall in between the two bridges) to the height of the crash barrier, is required for all the six major bridges between Dehu Road and Satara and not only for the Neera River bridge. This was revealed through the documents procured under RTI Act by Vinita Deshmukh and other members of Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch, from the NHAI office at Warje.
The major bridges which need urgent repairs, in the light of the terrible tragedy of 2ndNovember, where four ad professionals died, have been identified by the contractor as Pawana Bridge, Mula Bridge, Mutha Bridge, Krishna River Bridge, Venna River Bridge and Neera River Bridge. Repairs have also been recommended for a series of culverts and small bridges.
The letter written by Nagendra Rai, officer of the PS Toll Roads Pvt Ltd to Mr Kaundal, admits that all the major bridges and some of the culverts are ‘unsafe’ for commuters. The letter states, “you are aware that gap between all existing minor/major bridges and slab culvert is not properly closed by cras barrier or extending medial wall up to the level of crash barrier and same is leading to unsafe situation for the traffic.”
Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch is shocked that there is no urgency shown regarding the repair of the Neera Bridge despite the most horrendous tragedy earlier this month.
Instead, the NHAI Pune has washed its hands up stating that such a decision can be taken only by the Delhi office of NHAI. The reason being the statement in the letter in which Rai states, “As per schedule B of Concession Agreement, no scope is defined for improvement/strengthening of the median walls for all existing major/minor bridges and slab culverts.”
This in effect means, that the Reliance Infra’s subsidiary agency, PS Toll Roads Pvt Ltd, is asking NHAI to provide the funds. NHAI Pune in turn says they are not the authority and so the letter has been sent to Delhi.
In the end, Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch is appalled that the final victims are citizens. It has begun the process of procuring documents under RTI to file a public interest litigation (PIL).
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
November 21, 2013
Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN |
NAGPUR: The latest recommendations by a subcommittee of ministry of environment and forests ( MoEF) on roads in protected areas (PAs) may spark more trouble for road widening by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) on NH-6 near Navegaon National Park and Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary on NH-7.
A six-member subcommittee headed by M K Ranjitsinh, member, NBWL, on September 28, has recommended to the MoEF that the status quo of the roads passing through national parks and tiger reserves shall remain the same.
The roads could be maintained and repaired in the best manner possible in their current form and present width. No widening or upgradation is to be allowed. If it is an existing tarred road, it shall be maintained as such and no widening of the tarred surface or the widening of the road itself, may be done.
More importantly, the guidelines will also be applicable for roads approaching or passing by national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves that are within a radius of 1km thereof, or within the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), whichever of the two is lesser.
Wildlife experts say the recommendation will make matters worse for NHAI but will benefit wildlife, especially on NH7 and NH6, where four-laning cuts tiger corridor between Pench, Kanha, Nagzira, Navegaon and Tadoba and vice versa. On NH6, Navegaon National Park and New Navegaon Sanctuary are within 1km in certain patches. Similar is the case with Mansinghdeo on NH7.
The NHAI has submitted a formal proposal to Pench Tiger Reserve to seek wildlife clearance for road widening in patches which passes by Mansinghdeo, which is contiguous to Pench. This is after Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) clearance, which has asked NHAI to seek final clearance from NBWL. However, the latest recommendations will make it tough to get wildlife clearance as road widening in some patches virtually touches the sanctuary boundary.
Talking to TOI, Ranjitsinh said, “When you widen roads around a PA, construction activity not only disturbs the movement of wild animals but destroys its corridors. There are Supreme Court orders on restriction to radius roads passing PAs.”
On the impact of new guidelines, Ranjitsinh said, “I don’t know to what extent the guidelines will affect NH7 and NH6. We don’t say don’t develop the roads but the damage should be evaluated.”
Another member on the MoEF subcommittee said, “The new guidelines will affect four-laning on NH7 and NH6. The recommendations have come from NBWL subcommittee, and when the NHAI proposal comes before it, how will it be able to defy its own guidelines. The Pench corridor is already fragmented. Four-laning will further damage it and break forest contiguity.”
The committee was constituted by the MoEF on June 26 to frame comprehensive guidelines for construction and repair roads passing through PAs in the country.
* Principle of avoidance: The foremost option would be to altogether avoid areas that are within or in the vicinity of any PA and to find alternatives that are socially & ecologically more appropriate,
* Principle of realignment: Road projects must investigate and demonstrate that they have considered other alternative routes that avoid natural areas of high ecological value. This must be an integral feature of a project proposal and implementation documents. Realignments must also be developed in a transparent manner through consultation with local communities and wildlife considerations,
* Principle of restoration: In natural areas, existing roads that are in disuse, or evaluated to be inefficient or detrimental to their objects, shall be targeted for decommissioning and subsequent ecological restoration, as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.
September 25, 2013
OUR BUREAU |Mamuni Das
Govt officials cannot deal with such projects: Mayaram
Arvind Mayaram, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, stressed the need to have a regulator for the road sector to handle disputes in public-private-partnership (PPP) projects.
He said Government officials do not have the capacity to deal with PPP projects where contracts between the Government and private sector span 20-30 years, thus requiring constant interaction and adjustment between the two parties based on the changing circumstances.
“Traditionally, we were used to paying the private sector to do a job in two-three years, after which the relationship ended. How to manage relationships in post award framework is an area where there is scope for improvement,” Mayaram said speaking at a FICCI conference here on Monday.
The regulator can help manage when the Government’s relationship with the private sector gets rocky, said Mayaram.
Incidentally, the Planning Commission has taken a stance against the idea of having a road sector regulator to deal with such issues. It has rather supported the idea of an omnibus Bill, which will spell out ways for dealing with disputes in PPP projects.
The Government has been increasingly wooing the private sector to build infrastructure through public private partnership basis.
In 2005, it decided to bid out all road projects on BOT-toll mode first, where the private developer designs, finances and builds a road, maintains it, collects toll from users for a long-term period. Vijay Chhibber, Secretary, Road Transport and Highways, said the Ministry is working on a proposal to have a regulator, as was announced in the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s Budget speech this year.
The regulator would have an advisory role on renegotiation of existing contracts, setting of service standards, project entry and exit options, tariff structuring and toll mechanism and knowledge management, according to the proposal under the consideration of the Road Ministry.
It would also have an adjudicatory role on contract dispute resolution, renegotiation of future contracts and enforcement of contractual provisions.
This is for the first time that the Highways Ministry has officially spelled out its detailed proposal for the regulator.
September 20, 2013
Siddhartha Rai, Hindustan Times Gurgaon,
Whenever grilled about the success of the cashless tag scheme, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway concessionaire tends to hide behind the argument that it has always tried to promote the use of the smart tags. But the reality is far removed from the claim.
In 2011, the operator, Delhi-Gurgaon Super Connectivity Ltd (DGSCL), imported 73,000 tags from a Vienna-based company. The company had written a letter to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on February 18, 2011, saying, “The import of E-Tags which are part of the toll equipment has been done for use of the commuters of the Delhi-Gurgaon section of National Highway-8 from KM-14.3 to KM-42 and is not intended for any commercial purpose or resale.”
And, here comes the contradiction. “Tags were issued to commuters even before 2011, but at a cost. When the concessionaire has imported the tags under the garb of toll equipment and has declared them to be not for profit, how can it sell them to the people? The tags had to be issued free of cost,” says RTI activist Mahendra Singh whose RTI application elicited the above mentioned information. However, the concessionaire interprets the “not for commercial use” clause in contrast to Singh’s contention.
“As per the arrangement, these tags are to be used internally for the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway project and cannot be resold commercially to any other project. All tags imported by us have been used only on the expressway and no commercial resale has happened. The amount being charged for tags is an administrative fee, whereas for smart cards which we are promoting now are distributed free of cost,” said a DGSCL spokesperson. But the concessionaire also went on record to give contradictory statements.
In a letter to the NHAI, Gurgaon dated December 16, 2008, DGSCL said, “One-time cost of `1,500 will be charged to the users, being the cost of each tag (on a no profit no loss basis).” What started as “not for any commercial purpose or resale” melted down to charging the cost of the tags “on a no profit no loss basis”.
Split toll data erratic
Meanwhile, as per information furnished by the NHAI in response to another RTI application asking for traffic details between January 9, 2013 and January 20, 2013, the split toll plazas —intended to increase the clearance of vehicles at the Sirhaul toll plaza — has ostensibly come a cropper against the claims of DGSCL.
Out of the 12 days considered in the RTI response, for seven days the data showed no vehicles crossing the split plaza from both sides, while on one day there appeared no record of vehicles crossing from Gurgaon to Delhi via the split plaza.
DGSCL claimed that the split toll plazas have regularly been working, but the data have been integrated to the main toll plaza only since August, 2013.
But, as per data furnished by the NHAI, no vehicles on record passed through the split plazas for four days between January 13 and January 16, which exceeds the 2/3-day period for data collation. Figure this: on January 9, nearly 87,000 vehicles passed through the main toll plaza on the Gurgaon-Delhi side, out of which 3,734 used the split toll plaza, but on the next day no vehicle passed through the split plaza even as the total volume passing through the main toll plaza remained the same.
The efficacy of the split toll plazas, if DGSCL’s argument of data bunching for days together is considered, can be gauged from the fact that in five days from January 13 to January 17, only 714 vehicles passed through the split plaza from Gurgaon to Delhi when the volume of total traffic remained between 64,000 and 86,000.
“The split toll plazas mostly do not work as the concessionaire has not got the infrastructure to operate these. The company tries to cut its expenses on manpower, power bills, etc by keeping the split plazas closed,” said Asim Takyar, a Gurgaon-based RTI activist.
August 14, 2013
The office has introduced a programme on creating traffic awareness through postcards and visiting cards with an aim to reduce the number of accidents in the region.
It is sending the post cards, on which different types of traffic safety messages are printed, to the all the applicants who are approaching the office. Staff are also distributing the visiting cards with the road safety rules and acts to the visitors of the office. Motor Vehicle Inspector (MVI) M P Abdul Subair said that the initiative is aiming to make the people aware of traffic rules so as to save their lives and also of others. The necessity of wearing helmets, wearing seat belts, the directions to avoid usage of mobile phones while driving and the messages which are discouraging drunken driving also would be there among the messages on postcards and visiting cards.
The Highway Jagratha Samithis and Jana Jagratha Samithis are also functioning in the Tirurangadi region in the backdrop of the increasing number of accidents on the Tirurangadi region of NH 66. A squad of around thousand local people including autorickshaw drivers and salesmen on the highway is active with their 24/7 trauma care service along the stretch. The squad which was formed by Tirurangadi police, Vigilance Task Force (HVTF) is active in trauma care service.
The MVI said the initiative is expected to be a success and it will help reduce the number of accidents. “Awareness is the only way to prevent accidents and the fresh model of initiative will receive the attention of public easily,” he said.
August 12, 2013
Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN
NAGPUR: The central government exemption from environmental clearance (EC) to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for stretches up to 100km in length and 40m in width, will have a major impact on environment in the country, but at the same time it will not be a cakewalk for projects in wildlife and forests areas.
Earlier, as the relaxation was for 30km in length and 20 metres in width, the NHAI required EC and had to go through the mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) by ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) through its notification of September 14, 2006, and amended on December 1, 2009.
Highways development was generally intended to improve the economic and social welfare of the people. But at the same time, EIA was to minimize adverse effects on the surrounding environment, effects on people and their properties, damage to sensitive ecosystems, soil erosion, changes to drainage pattern and thereby groundwater, loss of productive agricultural land, resettlement of people, disruption of local economic activities, demographic changes and accelerated urbanization. Now, the highways authority has been freed from the above prescriptions.
If NHAI officials are to be believed they will not have to go through the tedious process of EIA with the MoEF and even public hearings in case of soil excavation from 2-5 hectare area.
“With the new norms, over 70% of our projects won’t need green approval. In Maharashtra, the NHAI is implementing 3,000km of road projects. Although we will need permission for tree felling and subsequently wildlife and forest clearances, we will not be require to submit EIAs,” said a senior NHAI official.
He added that over 9,500km highway/road projects are to be awarded this year, which will also benefit from this decision. Similarly, in the context of excavation of earth for highways, mining of soil in less than 2 hectare and up to 2 metre deep will not require EC.
Although this is perhaps the biggest ever relief that government provided to revive the highway sector, which has been hit by economic slowdown, the move has left the greens fuming. The NHAI is not environment-conscious and hence has put pressure on PMO to get rid of environment issues, they said.
Kishor Rithe, member of standing committee, National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the highest decision-making body on wildlife issues, says the move will have overall negative impact on environment in the entire country if project proponents do not take appropriate mitigation measures.
“The projects outside 10km of eco-sensitive zones, but within the wildlife corridors, won’t come to the NBWL for clearance. In such situation there is no EC required. I predict massive destruction as no one will ensure mitigation measures. If MoEF wants to give such relaxation, they should be very strict with mitigation measures,” said Rithe.
“However, the green sops will not change the status of NH7 and NH6, where the fate of the stalled road work in patches near sanctuaries will be decided by NBWL. On NH7 (Nagpur-Jabalpur Road), the project falls within 10km of Pench reserve and Mansinghdeo sanctuary. Similarly, on NH6 (Bhandara-Deori), it is within 10km from Navegaon. Here, NHAI will have to get forest and wildlife clearances as per the Environment Protection Act 1986,” said Prafulla Bhamburkar, manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
The exemption from environmental clearance granted to National Highways Authority of India for stretches up to 100km in length and 40m in width has attracted criticism from the greens.