HC should revive PIL on NH-29

Moa Jamir

The four-laning of 42.86-kilometre National Highway 29 from Dimapur to Kohima has been severely hampered by problems, resulting in the significant delay of completion of the construction. Most recently, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MorTH) informed the Lok Sabha on August 3 that while the 28.65 km is targeted for completion by this month; the remaining 14.21 km may not be completed until August 2025. The main reasons for the delay in completion were given as contractor's default and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main problem is Package-III, covering a distance of 14.2 km starting somewhere from Piphema to Jotsoma (Design Km 152.490 to Km 166.700), with termination of two contracts so far and a new contract yet to be formalised. As of June 30, 2023, the status of Package-III is listed as "To be Re-awarded" on the NHIDCL website.

On the other hand, even the ‘completed’ portion is plagued with problem, the most recent being the tragic rockslide on July 4, claiming two lives and causing injuries to several others as well as damages to vehicles.

On July 10, a local daily, quoting the Nagaland Chief Secretary, reported the State government had set up a High-Level Technical Committee (HLTC) to inquire into the July 4 incident of rock-slide. The Committee would submit its report within two weeks and after which the government would take necessary actions, the CS was further quoted as saying. However, nearly a month after, it is unclear whether the Committee was actually constituted and had submitted its report.

Meanwhile, the Naga Tribal Union Chümoukedima Town (NTUCT) informed on August 1 that it had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gauhati High Court, Kohima Bench against the NHIDCL and other respondents after failing to observe any sign of tangible steps taken for safety and security of commuters along the NH-29 stretch after the July 4 incident. There are 10 respondents in the PIL including the Union of India, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), State of Nagaland and Contractor. 

It must be noted here that Kohima Bench took up a PIL (Suo Moto) on October 18, 2019 after observing that the while the construction of four lane road of the NH-29 which started in the year 2015 with the 3 years stipulated completion time of 3 years, it was unlikely to meet the target.

While the intervening period since then was interspersed with the COVID-19 pandemic, one can assert confidently that constant monitoring and directives from the High Court has been largely instrumental in enabling whatever had been achieved so far.

With Package-III stuck for “nearly eight years,” the Kohima Bench on March 31, 2023 suggested for signing of the joint venture by two local contractors for completing the remaining stretch of the NH. However, the NHIDCL obtained order 01.05.2023 from by the Supreme Court staying “the effect and operation” March 31 order.

In view of the development, the Kohima Bench on May 10 adjourned the Suo Moto PIL sine die, but adding that “the matter shall be taken up on a future date, if so required, at Kohima Bench.”

With the developments thereafter, it is imperative for public interest that the PIL is revived to correct the tardiness as well as ensure accountability of all stakeholders. While it is the prerogative of the Court to intervene in matters, it deems fit, such action will ensure the four-laning of NH-29 is completed as soon as possible.

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The article has been updated to correct an inadvertent factual error