Read how CAG report on Dwarka Expressway is gross misrepresentation of facts

Read how CAG report on Dwarka Expressway is gross misrepresentation of facts

On 16th August, AAP held a protest at the under-construction Dwarka expressway site in Delhi alleging corruption in the project. The AAP protests came after a CAG report alleged that there was a massive cost overrun in the key infrastructure project.

In the protest led by AAP leader and national spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar, the party alleged that there is a huge scam in the elevated expressway project which is being developed to decongest the National Highway 48 between Delhi and Gurugram. The AAP cited a recent CAG report which claimed that the project is being developed at a cost that is nearly ‘14 times’ the amount originally approved.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) said that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had approved an overall average construction cost of ₹18.2 crore per km while approving the Bharatmala programme, but the 14-lane Dwarka Expressway is being developed at a cost of ₹250.77 crore per km. The CAG report on the implementation of Phase-I of the Bharatmala Project stated that NHAI Board approved the Dwarka Expressway with a civil cost of ₹7,287.29 crore with per km ₹250.77 crore as against per km civil cost of Rs 18.2 crore approved by the CCEA.

Using this CAG report, AAP has chosen to attack the Modi government. Yesterday Delhi minister Atishi posted a report on the CAG report on Twitter, asking who ‘pocketed ₹6,000 crore’ asking if there will be ED/CBI inquiry into it. Today AAP held a press conference alleging corruption by the central government, where Sanjay Singh claimed that the Modi government has broken all records of scams.

“This is such as a big scam that the road, for which an approval of Rs 18 crore per km was given, was built at a cost of ₹251 crore without any approval,” said AAP spokesperson Priyanka Kakkar at the protest site near Nangli Sakrawati in Najafgarh in Delhi.

The fact

The CAG report said that the cost went up from ₹18.2 crore per km to ₹250.77 crore per km for the 29 km project, which seems like a massive increase in cost. However, the report is heavily misleading, and the cost is similar to other projects of the same nature.

The reason is, the cost of ₹18.2 crore per km considered by the CAG is the overall cost for the Bharatmala project projected by the CCEA. But the Dwarka Expressway is very different from other roads in the Bharatmala Project. It is a 14-lane road, 8 of which are elevated, while the rest 6 lanes are on ground level. As such, the cost of an elevated road will be naturally much more, and no elevated road can be built at the cost of ₹18.2 crore per km, which was an average estimate for grade-level roads.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India (MoRTH) has responded to the CAG report by saying that it is a gross misrepresentation of facts. The ministry also contested the numbers mentioned by CAG. While the CAG claimed that the civil cost to construct the Dwarka Expressway project came in at ₹250 crore per km, the approved cost is ₹206.39 crore per kilometre and awarded civil cost is ₹181.94 crore/km for the project, as per the ministry.

CAG further claimed there was no need to build an elevated road, and there was enough land to build a 14-land grade-level road. CAG noted that the cost has gone up because the govt decided to convert the road to an elevated road. The CAG report also mentions that the Highway Ministry had replied to its queries explaining why an elevated road was needed. The MoRTH said that Dwarka Expressway was decided to be developed as an eight-lane elevated corridor with minimal entry-exit arrangements to allow smooth movements of inter-state traffic.

Responding to this, the CAG said that smooth traffic could be obtained by constructing underpasses/flyovers at the intersection points, instead of constructing the whole road as elevated.

Alleged scam vs alleged cost overrun

The CAG report clearly mentioned that the cost increase is because of converting the grade-level road to an elevated road, and the report didn’t hint or allege any scam. In effect, the government auditor has questioned the need for an elevated road, saying the same purpose could have been served by a grade-level road with a much lower cost.

Despite this being clear from the CAG report, AAP is alleging a scam in the project, which is a completely baseless allegation. Had AAP leaders compared the project cost with similar elevated roads or flyovers, they would have known that the cost of ₹250.77 crore per km is within the average cost of such projects. Moreover, as per the govt, the actual cost is ₹181.94 crore/km.

For example, Delhi’s AAP govt is expanding the 1.3 km Punjabi Bagh flyover by adding 6 lanes to it at the cost of ₹352.3 crore, which is ₹271 crore per km. The flyover has 6 lanes compared to 8 of the Dwarka Expressway, but still, the cost is more. Similarly, the under-construction 6-lane Anand Vihar flyover is 1.2 km long and it is being built at the cost of  ₹372.04 crore, a whopping ₹310 crore per km, and nowhere near ₹18 crore per km AAP claims the cost of the Dwarka Expressway should be.

Similarly, the 675-meter Signature bridge along with approach roads, with a total length of around 6 km, was built at the cost of ₹1,954 crore per km, which is ₹266 crore/km.

It is notable that the Dwarka Expressway includes an 8-lane elevated road and a 6-lane ground-level road, but still, the cost is less than the cost of 6-lane flyovers.

The fact of ₹18.2 crore per km cost

While the CAG report says that the project could have been built at the cost of ₹18.2 crore per km if it was built as a grade-level road, that assertion is incorrect. Because first, the cost is the average cost for Bharatmala project, and the roads under the project have 4 to 8 lanes, with a majority of 6-lane roads.

On the other hand, Dwarka Expressway is a 14-lane road. Even if this was built as a grade-level road, the cost would have been more because it has more lanes.

Another important point to note is that the average cost of Bharatmala Project does not include overpasses, underpasses etc, because the cost of such structures varies with every site and it is difficult to find an average cost. When CCEA approved the cost, it was decided that the cost of such additional structures will be determined after DPRs are prepared.

According to the MoRTH, the average cost of special projects including substantial lengths of bridges/via-ducts/tunnels under Phase-I of the Bharatmala Pariyojna stands at around ₹152 crore per km, not ₹18 crore per km.

If the Dwarka Expressway is built as a grade-level road, it will need an extremely high number of overpasses and underpasses as the entire road goes through metropolitan areas and there are a large number of traffic intersections. As a result, the cost will be much more than the average ₹18.2 crore per km cost or could be even more than ₹152 crore per km.

Why elevated road

Coming to the argument of CAG that the road could have been built at grade level with flyovers and underpasses wherever needed and an elevated road was not needed, the government has argued that it was studied and it was found that it was not a feasible option.

The Dwarka Expressway was planned way back in 2006 by the Haryana government to decongest the NH-48 between Delhi and Gurugram. As the entire region is heavily populated, there was no option of building a separate road, and the only option was to widen the HH-48. Initially, it was planned as an 8-lane road, and the state govt was going to build it. But for various reasons including land acquisition issues, the project could not take off. As a result, the project was taken over by the union government in 2016, and the Haryana govt handed over the land to the NHAI in 2018.

After taking over the project, NHAI considered both options for the project, ground level road and elevated road. They were discussed in detail by Standing Cost Committee, Project Appraisal Committee and NHAI Board, and the elevated road option was selected after the deliberations.

It was found that a ground-level road with flyovers and underpasses will not solve the issue of traffic congestion in the area. Because the existing NH-48 already have a large number of such structures with multiple entries and exits, but the traffic jams continue. As the area is seeing continuous developments along the entire stretch of the road, new flyovers and underpasses become necessary at regular intervals.

If such structures are added at every traffic intersection to ensure smooth traffic flow, a flyover will be needed at approximately every 2 km. This would mean that the expressway will turn into a roller coaster, it will be a continuous series of flyovers instead of a smooth road. Moreover, more intersections will need to be added as the region sees continuous development resulting in new major and minor roads.

It is also notable that a 14-lane ground-level road is possible only in the Haryana section of the expressway, it is not possible in the Delhi section. According to the govt, it would have resulted in the saving of around ₹1200 crore. But as this would have needed a large number of flyovers and underpasses, with the requirement of adding more in future, the elevated road option was chosen.

The Expressway with 8-land elevated road and 6-lane ground level will effectively segregate local traffic from interstate traffic, and provide a seamless connectivity between Delhi and Gurugram.

In conclusion, it can be seen that CAG wrongly compared the average cost of only roads under Bharatmala Project with the Dwarka Expressway project. The average cost of a road with substantial lengths of flyovers is over ₹150 crore under the project, not ₹18 crore.

But if the Expressway was built on ground level, it would have become a roller coaster as it will need a large number of flyovers. Therefore, the elevated road was the better option. Plus, the actual cost as per the govt is around ₹182 crore, not ₹250 crore as claimed by CAG.

And, AAP is using this CAG report to attack the Modi government, when their own flyovers with fewer lanes cost more.

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