Lucknow-Agra Expressway: Akhilesh Yadav bets on development as state poll approaches
When Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan hits the Lucknow–Agra Expressway in October with helicopters hovering above, it won’t be to film his next action movie. Instead, he’ll be accompanying Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav as they inaugurate India’s longest expressway, built in a record two years. The Rs 13,200 crore, 302-km, access-controlled flagship project of the Yadav government has six lanes that can be expanded to eight later on. Also, a 3 km stretch will be used by the Indian Air Force for emergency landings.
The opening will be held months before the state heads for elections and, significantly, the road passes through the pocket boroughs of the Yadav clan as it runs from Lucknow to Agra via Unnao, Kannauj, Etawah, Mainpuri and Firozabad.
Etawah is the family seat and Kannauj is the Lok Sabha constituency of Yadav’s wife Dimple. Mainpuri is represented by patriarch Mulyam Singh Yadav’s grandnephew Tej Pratap Yadav, who’s also Lalu Prasad’s son-in-law. Firozabad is represented by Mulayam’s nephew Akshay Yadav, son of Samajwadi Party general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav.
Acquiring the 8,500 acres of land that was needed is said to have been a remarkably smooth affair without the sort of disputes that typically delay infrastructure projects in India. Once it’s open, travel time from Lucknow to Delhi will be slashed to five and half hours, less than half the time it takes now. (The Agra-Delhi stretch is covered by the Yamuna Expressway.) Lucknow to Agra will take three and half hours from seven-eight hours now. Among the unique features of the expressway are two prefabricated bridges, one of them 750 metres long. “If you double the speed, you triple the economy,” chief minister Yadav told ET. “It will open up entire central UP and link it directly to Delhi on one end and Lucknow on the other. It will open up the economy and provide access to farmers, vegetable growers and dairy owners to sell their produce in Delhi and beyond. It will help usher in brig industry and create jobs.”
Experts said Yadav wants to send a message when he throws open the expressway— that he’s delivering on his promise to bring development to Uttar Pradesh, shunning caste and religious politics.
Yadav said the expressway, two metro rail systems nearing completion, power plants, specialty hospitals, the HCL IT City and other projects are symbols of the state’s transformation and will helping his party champion the main poll plank of development. Land acquisition was crucial to the speed with which the project was completed, said Navneet Sehgal, CEO of the UP Expressway Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA). It accounted for Rs 3,700 crore of the project’s total cost.
“We put in a system wherein farmers were sensitized about the importance of the project and how they would reap benefits for years to come once the expressway becomes operational,” he said. “We hiked the compensation rate and assured farmers that they will get four times the circle rate, making it lucrative for farmers to sell. We made online registry possible, which quickened the process.”Also, compensation was directly transferred into land holders’ accounts, helping to complete the acquisition process in six months. That’s made it a model for emulation by other state governments and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), said chief secretary Deepak Singhal. Devesh Kumar Prajapati of Tala Sarai village in Unnao got Rs 45.60 lakh for less than 2 bighas of land. “We had initially opposed giving up the land,” he said.
“There was a lot of scepticism. But later officials started coming to our doorstep and we gained confidence. My family has around 50 bighas of land around the village and hence thought of giving up 2 bighas for the development of the remaining 48 bighas. What really motivated us was the official promise that we would be given market rates for our land and instant payments.” Girdhari Lal of Sarosa Bharosa village on the rural outskirts of Lucknow got Rs 1.29 crore for 1.7 bighas, preferring to sell to the government rather than real estate developers.“They assured me that I will get the entire payment in one go, which private players cannot do. Hence, I willingly gave up land for the expressway and brought farmland a few kilometres away from my native place,” he said.
Getting India’s longest expressway built in two years is a signal achievement and will help create jobs, generate income and boost the economy, said Abhay Agarwal, partner, EY. “It will not only help farmers move their agricultural, milk and horticultural products to a larger market but also expedite industrialization of the districts through which it passes,” he said. “Many big and small business zones will come up along it.”
The 3 km emergency landing strip segment near Agra has been built to exacting standards to allow military planes to use it. Two IAF jets are set to land on it at the October inaugural, according to the programme that’s being drawn up. “We had a stiff deadline as the chief minister wanted the expressway to be ready within two years,” Sehgal said. “Structures and bridges take a long time to come up. To fast track the construction, for the first time in India we precast eight-lane bridges and then they were lifted and fixed atop pillars which were simultaneously being built on the river bed.”
Two farm mandis, a logistics hub, an IT city and a residential town are planned to be built along the expressway, Yadav has said.
The companies involved in the construction of the expressway include Afcons, Larsen & Toubro, NCC and PNC Infratech.