CHENNAI: “What is the point of sending rockets to space when, even after 70 years of Independence, we cannot lay proper roads?” wondered the Madras High Court on Wednesday, while directing the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to charge only 50 per cent of the toll in two plazas along the Chennai-Bengaluru Highway for the next two weeks for failing to maintain the busy stretch.
These toll plazas fall in the Maduravoyal-Walajapet stretch of the highway, the overall condition of which has been appalling for the last few years. “If the authorities cannot maintain the roads, why collect toll,” was the question posed by the two-judge bench comprising Justices M Sathyanarayanan and R Hemalatha, before passing the rare order.
The bench wondered why it must not direct the NHAI to upload pictures showing the poor condition of the roads on its own website, to highlight its failure. The bench was hearing a case that was taken up in 2019 on suo motu basis after Justice M Sathyanarayanan sent a note to the Chief Justice highlighting the condition of the road.
In his note, Sathyanarayanan had suggested that the road be laid afresh in accordance with the specifications of the Indian Road Congress. Until then, no toll should be collected along the damaged stretch. While hearing the case, the bench pointed out that despite the poor condition, users were paying not the regular but increased rates to commute on this stretch.
NHAI to file report on toll plea by Dec 21
"IT appears that no responsibility has been fixed upon the concessionaire and no follow-up action has also been done by the NHAI officials, the bench noted. "Let NHAI chairman come to Chennai and travel from Maduravoyal to Ranipet." Assistant Solicitor-General G Karthikeyan during the hearing submitted that the Highways department has carried out several works along the road and there are also tenders worth Rs 50 crore for relaying the road.
He assured that within 10 days, the entire civil work would be completed. Expressing their dissatisfaction that none of the roads in the State are up to the quality prescribed by the Indian Road Congress, the court said that a total of 500 accidents take place every year in the highway. Also, taking note of the news reports, the court also suo motu ordered the department to provide adequate compensation to the mother-daughter duo who died recently after falling into an open drain. The court adjourned the plea to December 21 for NHAI to file a detailed report.