Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday said his ministry is spending over Rs 1,200 crore for creating corridors to be used by wildlife for safely crossing highways passing through green belts. The road transport, highways and MSMEs minister also said the Mumbai-Delhi expressway will be extended to the country's largest container port JNPT by spending up to Rs 15,000 crore.
Concerns have been expressed about the impact of highways on the wildlife and calls have been repeatedly made to emulate global experiences where dedicated corridors are created for the safe movement of animals. Gadkari said a bulk Rs 1,100 crore will be spent on underpasses to be built on the Nagpur-Jabalpur National Highway which passes through the Pench National Park.
Apart from this, four highways including Gadchiroli-Chandrapur and Chimur-Vadodara will see an expenditure of Rs 170 crore for animal crossings, he told reporters. "We are not just building roads. We also want to plant trees and create infrastructure for safe movement of wildlife," Gadkari said.
On the extension of the Mumbai-Delhi expressway, Gadkari said a need was felt for it because otherwise, all the vehicles will clog the traffic in the financial capital. The expressway will be connected to a special road constructed by the container port near Panvel and entail a cost of Rs 12,000-15,000 crore, Gadkari said. A bulk of it will be on land acquisition, he added.
The Union minister, who met Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday, said he had requested Maharashtra to contribute half of the incremental cost of the highway building. Maharashtra, however, declined the proposal but agreed to waive the GST on steel and cement to be used and also on royalty component, he said. The money will be considered as equity contribution by the state in the ambitious project, Gadkari added.
He said 40 per cent of the work on the project has already been completed and exuded confidence for a commissioning of the access control highway in one-and-a-half year. Meanwhile, Gadkari also announced that a Rs 12,000-crore cement concrete highway will be constructed to connect the Alandi and Dehu Road with the pilgrim town of Pandharpur in Maharashtra.
These national highways, to be used by "palkhis" walking to Pandharpur will also have dedicated green lanes with grass on the sides which can be used by devotees, Gadkari said. The ministry will also ask Maharashtra for additional land on the route where the walkers can stay overnight, he added.
He also announced a Rs 6,000-crore highway from Surat to Solapur via Nashik and Ahmednagar, which will lessen the traffic burden on Mumbai and Pune as the north-south traffic passes through these two cities. The ministry may extend the FASTag implementation by some more days, he said adding that 75 per cent of vehicles have complied with the electronic system.
He said the government is also contemplating using GPS equipment fitted in vehicles to ensure that there are no toll plazas at all, explaining that the toll will be directly debited as per the distance for which a vehicle has been used. When asked about the scrappage policy, Gadkari said the proposal is pending with the finance ministry on the taxation treatment but declined to give a timeline for the same.
Gadkari said this was his maiden visit to the financial capital since the onset of pandemic in March and added that state ministers Ashok Chavan, Balasaheb Thorat and Eknath Shinde were also present. Earlier in the day, he also paid a visit to Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi's residence but stressed that the same was not political in nature.
He parried questions on Thackeray's performance as the chief minister and also the pre-eminence of the Enforcement Directorate in Maharashtra's politics.