The Supreme Court, on May 10, 2018, directed that if the Eastern Peripheral Expressway is not inaugurated on or before May 31, 2018, it should be thrown open to the public who were facing traffic congestion in Delhi. The 135-km-long Expressway envisages signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gautam Budh Nagar (Greater Noida) and Palwal. The Eastern and the Western Peripheral Expressways were planned in 2006, following the top court’s order to build a ring road outside the national capital, for channelling the traffic not bound for Delhi.
The apex court had asked the centre in 2005, to build the Expressway around Delhi by July 2016, to decongest and de-pollute the national capital. Today, the directions by the bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, came after it was informed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) counsel that the construction work was complete. When the counsel said it was earlier scheduled to be inaugurated on April 29, 2018 by prime minister Narendra Modi but could not be done due to his prior commitments, the bench asked “Why don’t you inaugurate it?” The court also said, “According to the newspapers, the prime minister will not be here tomorrow and day after tomorrow.” The bench also observed that it was earlier informed that the work of the Expressway was complete and it was likely to be inaugurated on or before April 20, 2018.
In a connected development, soon after the court expressed anguish over the delay in opening of the Expressway, union road transport, highways and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari came out with a statement, saying the Expressway was almost ready to be inaugurated. “Earlier, there was a little delay as a railway road overbridge could not be completed. Now, that work has almost been completed. We are seeking time from prime minister Narendra Modi and it will soon be inaugurated,” Gadkari said.
During the hearing in the apex court, the NHAI counsel also said the ministry had sent a request to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for this. Advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, told the bench that the people of Delhi were reeling under pollution and traffic problems and the NHAI should open the Expressway for public use. “Why are you waiting for it? You open it,” the bench told the NHAI’s counsel, who again said it would be inaugurated by the prime minister. To this, the bench said, “That is the problem. The High Court of Meghalaya was not inaugurated but it is functioning for the last five years there. You cannot pass on the buck and say PMO, PMO only.”
The amicus requested the court that the Expressway should be open for the public and its inauguration could be done later. She said “I think even the PMO will not have any objection.” The NHAI counsel assured the apex court that the Eastern Peripheral Expressway would be inaugurated by May 29, 2018.
“The NHAI shall ensure that the inauguration takes place on or before May 31, failing which it will be thrown open to the public, as Delhi is under traffic congestion and any delay in opening of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway will not be in the interest of the people of Delhi,” the bench said.
In a jocular vein, justice Lokur asked the NHAI that the Expressway could also be inaugurated by additional solicitor general ANS Nadkarni, who was present, saying he had taken a lot of pain in this case. Meanwhile, the counsel for the Haryana government, informed the bench that 81 per cent work of the 135-km Western Peripheral Expressway was complete and the private entity doing the work, had assured that construction would be completed by June 30, 2018. According to the timeline, work on the Western Peripheral Expressway, which connects Kundli to Palwal via Manesar in Haryana, was to be completed by February 2019 but the construction would be completed by June this year, the counsel said. “Then you will say the prime minister will inaugurate it, so wait,” the bench said and asked Haryana government to ensure that the private concessionaire, involved in the work, sticks to its date of completion and the Expressway be inaugurated immediately thereafter.