The High Level Committee that met on Friday to decide on the contentious issue of closing down the Cortalim-Verna stretch of the National Highway to allow the construction of the new Zuari bridge was unable to reach a conclusive decision. Nothing new or surprising in this. It in fact is in keeping with the manner in which the government has been working this past year where procrastination has been the word that best describes all government efforts. The meeting to decide on the closure of the road from Cortalim to Verna ended with the committee, comprising of three ministers and a MLA, deciding to visit the area on Sunday and see for themselves how best the situation can be managed.
For now the road won’t be closed until January 16, which is the feast of St Joseph Vaz and the main celebration is held at Sancoale. But that’s hardly a relief, as there is no assurance that the road will not be closed and traffic diverted after that date. The possibility still exists, even as the High Level Committee is going to look into the possibility of whether a service road can be constructed in the fields alongside so that traffic can be allowed to move smoothly. That is one of the options the committee will be looking at when it visits the site on Sunday, and when it will have discussions with the farmers. Another option being considered is closing it for a month to reduce the inconvenience to commuters. But, if a month will suffice, why propose it be closed for almost a year?
There are a few questions that need to be asked and answered, beginning with was the road closure part of the original contract with the government? When the design for the bridge was finalised and the agreement was signed, was the closure of the road foreseen? This is important, because if the road closure had indeed been anticipated, the government should have had a plan in place for the traffic diversion so that travelers and daily commuters were not troubled unnecessarily. Had this been done, then this current display of hasty trouble shooting that we are seeing today would not have been necessary.
If the answer to the question is in the negative, then when was it that the company undertaking the construction of the bridge realise that the road would have to be closed? And, why wasn’t this envisaged earlier and alternative measures put in place? Can a construction company undertaking such a massive project have not planned for such a road closure? It is difficult to accept that such a major project was undertaken without such a possibility being envisaged, and that it was a surprise to the government when it was proposed by the construction company. This is, to repeat, a national highway, and closing it for eight months or close to a year does not only affect local travellers, but others too travelling on this highway that leads to Kanyakumari. Heavy traffic has already been diverted due to the strength of the existing bridge.
This episode is another example of how the government reacts to situations, rather than anticipating them and taking corrective measures. The government has scrambled to find solutions to the diversion issue only after there was a public outcry to the road closure proposal. This has been happening often enough for the people to begin losing faith in the government’s capabilities and its vision for the future. Finding a quick solution to this, before the New Year, will be a test for the government. Can it pass this test in the three days it still has before we discard the old calendars and replace them with new ones?