On a bright winter Sunday, you may feel the warm sun beckoning you. It seems to say: Take your car out and enjoy my glory even more. Surely, there would be little traffic on a holiday.
But not in Delhi. Especially not if you plan to drive from South Delhi to Gurgaon or vice versa, through the mess that is the Rao Tula Ram Marg flyover. The beautiful sunny day soon becomes a sweaty anger-spewing, abuse-hurling one. And this is the road that connects South Delhi to the airport, which should have a smooth hassle free ride.
The bottleneck you encounter on the Outer Ring Road came up in 2010. Soon after the two-lane one-way flyover became operational, authorities realised that it would not work. So then they made it one lane on either side. This is ridiculous for Delhi, as it expects drivers to stick to their lanes. So everyone is on edge, waiting for a chance to push their bonnet in before the other.
And despite another three-lane flyover parallel to the existing one being sanctioned in 2014, the stretch gives a nagging headache to anyone negotiating it — far from what the purpose of the said flyover was to be.
Uber driver Ram says under-construction flyovers are perpetually upsetting his schedules. “A route which would take 15 minutes, takes an hour and half. It’s not just time that is getting wasted but also money and energy”.
He also points to a junction from Uttam Nagar to Dwarka Mor. “It’s so bad that if I get a booking for that route I cancel it. I don’t want to be stuck in that situation”.
A little bypass from under the flyover takes you to Dabri if you want to go towards Dwarka but only one car can pass at a time. It is a traffic nightmare.
“It gets worse because of the thela and richskaw walas who are just allowed to stand anywhere, blocking the narrow roads”. Even on the Mahipalpur road, the situation is grim, he says.
Ram believes this goes on because politicians don’t care. “Roads are blocked for the Prime Minister to pass. The MPs have huge homes which they don’t even need to leave because they get everything at their doorstep. When they have to go out, it’s to Parliament, or to the airport. Even if they have to shop, they’ll go to the nicer places where there is no heavy traffic, or potholed roads”.
“The areas they live in, they don’t know what common people go through. And some of the netas who come from small towns, they haven’t even seen roads, so for them this is great improvement”, Ram adds.
For the most part, knee-jerk reaction to the city’s needs — like the Rao Tula Ram Marg fiasco —mean commuting hell. In September, a report claimed that more than 20 months after it was supposed to be finished, only 55% work has been completed. Deadlines for the three-lane parallel flyover have been missed four times already, and the December deadline has shifted to March 2019.
Causes of delays have ranged from “funds constraint” and opposition by residents — and judging by the area, some wealthy, influential ones. The problems have caused the pocket of the Public Works Department (PWD) to be further dented, with one report quoting an official as saying the cost of flyover had risen to Rs 330 crore.
The other elephant
Another major road that has been facing constant delays is the Barapullah project. Divided into three stretches, Phase I connecting Sarai Kale Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium became operational for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After that, it has seen a steady trickle of delays, having missed three deadlines. Phase II, connecting Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to INA market, became functional only in July 2018.
Part of the Phase III project is stalled due to ban on construction due to the pollution levels in Delhi. It will be opened in the first week of January, according to a PWD official.
But in this phase, the problem that eludes solution anytime soon is of land acquisition. The PWD official, who does not wish to be named, said that despite several hurdles previously, the biggest one which remains is of land acquisition. “This has been going on for two years. A stretch of 750m comes under the DM South East. This is hindering the work”.
When asked whether land acquisition was not something deliberated before the work began, the official cited that “UTIPECH (Unified Traffic Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre) had given its approval. Even the DDA had given an NOC (No objection certificate). Only later did it become known that the 750m patch of land in the corridor came under private ownership”.
“If land acquisition is fast-tracked, then things would go smoothly. It’s not rocket science. But because of the acquisition, things are at a standstill,” he maintains. And even if negotiations go through and the land is acquired, it would take them a further 18 months, he says, to complete the project.
Which means it will not be until 2020 when connectivity will be achived. Till then, the much talked about loop will not be helping the innumerable number of people who travel back and forth during peak hours for work.
When you go past the site, you can see that a lot of work is yet to be done before that can be achieved. A worker at the stretch of the flyover being constructed said they work from 8:30 am to 8:30 at night, so long hours are being put in.
To get a perspective on the state of Delhi’s flyovers, Patriot spoke to School of Planning and Architecture’s head of department of transport planning, Dr Sanjay Gupta.
He believes that one of the main reasons why Delhi faces such kneejerk reactions is because transport facilities are not built foreseeing future demand. He also blames the lack of trained planners even at local bodies. With “Delhi having a weak coordination system”, problems worsen. “We need a Unified Metropolitan Authority (UMTA) which would look into all means of transport in the capital and make its integration a cohesive enterprise”.
Instead what the country has is a “policy vacuum in the Centre.” With “no Delhi transport policy either at the state level, there’s no plan as to how we will take the city forward”, which takes into account the growing population and the stagnating space. What prevails is “constant firefighting”.
And while the institute churns out students with the knowledge of how to tackle the problems that Delhi faces, and to build something viable for the future, Gupta says there aren’t any government jobs available to them.
Thus, the responsibility vests with the government to equip itself with enough means to be able to accommodate the massive population growth and where travel time of 20 km does not take two hours — on a good day at peak hours.
[This was first published in PATRIOT, Delhi’s own weekly. The original article can be read here.]