Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's still a long, long way to go for NICE dream to become a reality

It's still a long, long way to go for NICE dream to become a reality

As work for the 111-km expressway linking the IT industrial belt of Bangalore with Mysore is still going slowly 14 years after the project deal was signed, the delay may escalate the costs and the road user will have to ultimately bear the burden, PK Surendran reports

PK Surendran

Already running behind schedule by four years, the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) Express Highway may be delayed further. The six avowed project opportunities, including the 400-mw power generation facility, may never materialise if this is the way things are going.
The 111-km super highway was the first big infrastructure project planned 14 years ago under the private-public partnership. It was billed to become Karnataka's economic lifeline linking Electronic City and industrial corridor with Mysore. Fourteen years after, the project is just half way through its first of three phases. Of the 12km of the first phase, only 5.5km has been done. But it has almost completed the 9-km link road and 41-km peripheral road.
Highly-placed functionaries of NICE regretted that the company was compelled to fritter away much of its valuable time on frivolous charges. They were alluding to the ding-dong battle the NICE chairman Ashok Kheny had to wage with former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. The official, who handles the project in the absence of Kheny, now indisposed and away in the US, said the project cost overrun amounted to Rs2,000 crore due to the delay in allotting land and a series of litigations since its framework agreement signed with the government in April 1997. The original project cost was Rs1,750 crore. It looks the final figure would be quite big which the road users will be ultimately called upon to bear.
At stake are the following projects:
n An outer peripheral road
n Expressway development
n Five townships with population of 100,000 each
n 400mw power generating facility
n Telecommunications system
n Water supply system
n Sewage treatment facility
n Tourism, theme parks, amusement and recreational facilities.
Of this, the outer peripheral road is the only one hurtling towards completion. Officials confirmed that the 400-mw facility being planned in four places of 100mw each is nowhere near realisation as it has not been finalised where to locate the five townships although some names were mentioned in the deal under the contract signed between NICEL and the Government of Karnataka.
"These services are integrated and, therefore, interdependent. They will be done for sure; only, the time frame remains a question mark," says Manjunath Nayaker, general manager, public relation, of NICE.
Industry leaders are upset by the delay and politicisation of the project.
"Anyone who has used the Magadi Road (peripheral NICE) knows what a pleasure it is to drive. It is tragic that NICE is being scuttled by some politicians who do not understand economy. NICE would help business and industry and, ultimately, thousands of families. When a businessman does something, he is obviously doing it for profit. If the allegation is that NICE is developing township for profit, so be it. He is not doing it for charity. But the state is getting a valuable infrastructure and politics should keep out of it," said J Crasta, president Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI).
"We don't have the luxury to say 'no' to infrastructure. NICE was the real nice thing that happened to this state. Once the government has committed, it has to honour it and the Supreme Court has explicitly stated so. Its contract conditions are not open to question now after the government signed it. In this case, those raising allegations are the very same who signed the agreement. This project should not be politicised," said Sajan Poovayya, chairman of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Karnataka State Council.


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