Kochi: Kerala, which has embarked on an ambitious scheme to put its roads on par with world standards, has received seven expressions of interest (EoIs), including from non-resident Indians and foreign firms, for the major North South Expressway project.
Among the companies that have shown preliminary interest in the Rs 64-billion build-operate-transfer (BOT) project, showcased at the Global Investor Meet in Kochi in January 2003, are Essar, IL&FS and a company from Malaysia.
A committee, comprising SBI Caps, IL&FS and IDFC, is examining the issue of financial structuring and the cabinet will decide on the government stake in the project after receiving the committee's report, which is expected by this month-end. ''The Government may retain 26 per cent, or even 51-per cent, equity in the project. We will decide about it after receiving the committee report,'' says PWD minister Dr M K Muneer.
Land acquisition for the project - a 500-km, four-lane expressway from Kasaragod in the north to Parassala in the south - is expected to take one year. The entire project is expected to be completed over three phases by 2013, says Muneer. Stating that full care will be taken to rehabilitate about 7,000 families expected to be displaced by the project, Muneer says about Rs 17.58 billion will be needed for this task.
In another major project worth Rs 16 billion, aided by the World Bank, the Kerala government is upgrading 1,610 kms of roads in the state. Modern machinery, technology and materials are being used under this scheme, says the minister.
In recognition of the fact that poor road conditions are a stumbling block to the development of tourism, which has been identified as a thrust area, the government plans to develop good roads to places of tourist interest, he says. The roads to tourist destinations include Kottayam-Kumarakom-Cherthala Highway (estimated project cost Rs 2.20 billion) and Munnar-Kodaikkanal Highway (Rs 1 billion).
Other projects in the offing are Ponnani-Khozhikode Coastal Highway (Rs 3.82 billion), Cochin Airport-Seaport Highway (Rs 2 billion), Vadakkancherry-Pollachi Road (Rs 2 billion), Kottayam-Nedumbassery Road and Hill Highways.
Stating that the revamp of the National Highways also figured high on his department's agenda, Muneer says the state government is closely following the construction of Kozhikode bypass stages I, II and III and the Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram bypasses. ''We have also received positive signals from the central government to our request to convert the Cherthala-Parassala sector (205 km) of NH 47 to four lanes at an estimated cost of Rs 6 billion.''
In a major bid to improve the quality of the roads, the government has decided that henceforth all state roads, major district roads and national highways will be made with rubber-modified bitumen (RMB). Though 10 per cent costlier than ordinary bitumen, the RMB roads are found to be 20 per cent more durable, he adds.
Another area of focus for the state government is the construction of bridges, especially railway over-bridges (ROBs), Muneer says. Pointing out that only six ROBs have come up in Kerala in the past 30 years, the minister says in a pioneering effort to redress this situation, the state government set up a Roads and Bridges Development Corporation two years ago. The corporation had approached the Railways to let it construct the bridges and the approach roads instead of depending on the former to construct ROBs.
In a landmark decision, the Railways had agreed to let the corporation handle the construction, confining its own role to giving clearance to designs and assessing the safety aspects. ''After the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)), this corporation is the only body in the country to get permission to build ROBs,'' Muneer says. Plans are immediately drawn up for constructing 50 ROBs in the state. Of these, 20 are under construction while the plans for another 18 have been approved.
Three of the ROBs - one each in Palaghat, Kozhikode and Thrissur districts - are to be opened in July 2003. After that, the department hopes to open at least one ROB every month, he says. ''We have miles to go in fulfilling our dream of world-class infrastructure. Our humble efforts are aimed to achieve this vision so that we can contribute our share towards a resurgent Kerala.''