Saturday, May 12, 2007

2 highways and the contrast - Delhi-Jaipur and Delhi-Hardwar

This is a tale of 2 trips, not about the destination but the journey. The contrast is
between a trip on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and the Delhi-Hardwar highway. On 2 consecutive weekends, I went to a resort near Jaipur (called Shiva Oasis in Behror) and then to a relative's place in Roorkee (the last major stop on the Delhi-Hardwar road). The state of the highways could not be more of a contrast, and I was left to wondering that even though these are highways under the control of the National Highway Authority of India, are they symptomatic of the political administrations of these states. After thinking about this for some time, I realized that this connection is worth talking about on my blog.
The trip to Jaipur first went through the new under-construction Delhi-Gurgaon expressway. This is a delayed project, but now that large stretches of this expressway have been constructed, the experience is slowly coming to life for a large number of people. (One caveat: this highway is not meant for slow moving vehicles, cyclists, etc; so there is always a question of what good it means for poorer people. This expressway will have a dual goal, reducing the massive wear and tear and extra fuel costs for both commerical and personal vehicles, as well as making goods transport across states faster; making it easier for pedestrians is something that always seems to be a work in progress). Once you are past this highway, the wonder of the Delhi-Jaipur highway truly comes to life; even with a large number of vehicles traversing this route, the highway seems to be able to take such traffic easily. Even after passing through towns and cities such as Manesar, and others, the highway does not slow down significantly. And you can never compare this highway to a the scarred surface of a rough road, as the number of craters on this surface seems to be limited.
The Delhi-Hardwar circuit seems to be a much worse track. This is also an important circuit, given that this is the main route to the hill towns of Dehrarun and Mussorie from Delhi, as well as a major religious circuit. During religious festivals, the number of vehicles on this road are numerous. Some important towns exist on this highway such as Meerut (with a bypass), Modinagar, roorkee, and Muzzafarnagar (with a bypass). The distances of these two highways are not very different, but the time taken is very different. The Delhi-Jaipur highway would take less than 3 hours, while Delhi-Hardwar could easily take upto 5-6 hours, with a bone jarring ride in many stretches due to immense potholes. In addition, during the sugarcane season, there will be numerous tractor-trailers carrying overloaded loads of sugarcane, slowing down the whole traffic, and if one of these breaks down, the whole traffic soon comes to a grinding halt (in part because the road is very narrow in significant stretches).
Where do state governments come into this ? These highways are after all owned by the NHAI. The reason state governments are involved is because of the need to ensure that all other measures are taken to make these highways effective. In towns are allowed to build on both sides of the highways without control, soon the highway will be a criss-cross of local traffic; if slow moving vehicles such as these sugarcane transporters are allowed to move onto the highway, overall traffic will slow down; if towns such as Modinagar don't have an effective traffic management, it could take upto 1 hour to cross a town with not more than 10 kilometers. It is a state government that realizes the importance of good highways with fast movement of goods; this makes these good cheaper, reduces transportation costs in terms of fuel and wear and tear. One gets a strong feeling that the Rajasthan government gets this fact, while the UP government could not care less.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:40 PM