Questions have been raised about public expenditure on a “political event” as a galaxy of BJP legislators and Union ministers arrived in Sultanpur, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated the Purvanchal expressway – touted as the “lifeline of eastern Uttar Pradesh” by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
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Consider a letter by Sultanpur collector Ravish Gupta to the managing director of the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation about the people attending the event. It points out the need to arrange 2,000 buses to ferry visitors, 70 percent from Sultanpur and the rest from Ayodhya and Ambedkar Nagar. The UPSRTC MD should personally ask the regional manager of the district roadways to make the arrangement, the letter states.
“There are about 950 villages in Sultanpur, one or two buses would be sent to every village to ferry the people. The rest would be used to ferry people from nearby districts and urban areas. The target has been set to bring 2 lakh people to the PM's rally,” said Anil Dwivedi, a journalist with news channel Sahara Samay.
The Sultanpur collector that “the buses’ expense would be borne by the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority, and not the district administration”.
“This expressway has been constructed by UPEIDA, which is why UPEIDA is arranging the whole event. Whatever is the expense, we shall bear it,” UPEIDA’s additional CEO Shirish Chandra Verma told Newslaundry.
UPEIDA chief Anil Pandey said they will pay for the buses in accordance with the details received from the collector’s office. Asked if people from the BJP would be part of the meeting, he said, “We don’t know who would or wouldn’t be there. The event is of UPEIDA, but the preparations are made by the district administration.”
‘Not the first time it is happening’
“This is not the first time it is happening, but spending so much money on an expressway is a first,” said veteran journalist Sharat Pradhan. Pradhan claimed that the “Yogi government is trying to solidify Purvanchal using this expressway,” which is also why the PM has been invited ahead of the 2022 Assembly polls.
“The BJP is not doing this just to win the 2022 state elections, but the prime minister is also paving his road to 2024,” said Pradhan. “People would come to see an airplane anyway on the air strip which has been constructed on the expressway. This event has been organised to benefit politically,” he added.
According to a , each bus costs nearly Rs 24,000 for 400 kilometres. As per this evaluation, the 2,000 buses may cost about Rs 5 crore.
“The party in power and the government are not separate from each other in the events of the government,” said Raj Khanna, a journalist with Sultanpur’s Dainik Jansatta. Speaking to Newslaundry, he claimed that political parties want power so they can use the government resources. “This is not a new phenomenon, this has always been done and is still happening,” he said.
At a similar event, PM Modi addressed a public meeting in Bhopal on November 15 on Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary, in an ostensible bid to get tribals in their fold. According to an Rs 23 crore was spent on the four-hour event.
The UPEIDA was constituted by the UP government in 2007 to build expressways. Pradhan said the Purvanchal expressway project was launched during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure as Chief Minister.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said that his had inaugurated the expressway but the tender was cancelled and the foundation stone ceremony was conducted after the BJP came to power.
Interestingly, PM Modi laid the foundation stone for Purvanchal expressway in 2018, just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “Four separate tenders were given to construct this expressway and people connected to the BJP got two of them. This is also a reason for the delay,” said Pradhan.
According to the UPEIDA , March 2021 was the target to open the expressway main carriageway.
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“The set norms have not been met in the construction of Purvanchal expressway,” said a former member of the planning commission, Sudhir Panwar, according to an report. “Once the traffic opens up, the public themselves would find out that this expressway is nowhere near the Agra-Lucknow expressway in quality.”
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said the government is cheating people in the name of the expressway. “Where would the people from nearby villages walk with no service lanes constructed? A speeding vehicle could crush anyone walking on the road. The government is playing with people’s safety.”
“This expressway is not complete yet. The construction is still going on at some places on the road,” said journalist Khanna.
Pradhan said, “If one wants to get on the expressway, they must circle a few kilometres to do it.”
“The expressway has been constructed. The construction is going on only at a few places in between, the expressway would be opened to the public after the inauguration,” UPEIDA’s assistant manager Shiv Singh told Newslaundry.
BSP MP Ritesh Pandey also raised questions. “Quality is compromised to save some money. The quality of the Yamuna expressway constructed during the BSP government is way better.”
The financial condition of UPEIDA
The total construction cost for the 340-km expressway – passing through Lucknow, Baranbanki, Amethi, Sultanpur, Ayodhya, Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Mau and Gazipur – is Rs 22,494.66 crore, including purchase of land.
“The estimated cost of the expressway in 2016 was Rs 14,162 crore, but the bid was finalised at Rs 15,157 crore which is 995 crore more than the original estimate,” the CEO of UPEIDA and additional chief secretary of UP told
Adding that the Adityanath government had estimated the expenditure to be Rs 11,836 crore, the officer said, “The bid was for Rs 11,215 crore, which is 621 crore less than the estimate. This is how the government saved Rs 1,616 crore.”
According to a report, UPEIDA has taken a loan of Rs 12,000 crore for the expressway from Punjab National Bank. An amount of Rs 1,500 crore was also borrowed from two separate banks for this project in June 2020.
Information disclosed during the August 2021 UPEIDA meeting.
UPEIDA is constructing three similar projects: Bundelkhand expressway, Gorakhpur link expressway and Ganga expressway. It took a loan of Rs 5,900 crore from six different banks to construct these expressways.
However, why is an authority that is taking loans for this project organising such a mega event where crores are being spent?
The Financial Express report stated that UPEIDA intends to clear these loans by raising money through toll tax. However, when none of the expressways have been completed, where will the toll tax come from? Further, the authority is spending money on an inauguration which would be collected from the public as toll tax.
“The organisation of an event by an organisation which is in such shape is sheer waste of money,” Pradhan said.
PM Modi and Rajnath Singh landed on the expressway through a Hercules plane. The 3.5-km landing strip has been built similarly as the Barmer highway where Rajanth Singh and Nitin Gadkari arrived .
Words of opposition
While the guest list for the Sultanpur event seemed long, a few opposition members claimed they didn’t even receive an invitation – even though the expressway passes through Ambedkarnagar and Azamgarh represented by MPs from BSP and SP, respectively.
“I haven’t received any invitation yet. I won’t be going even if it arrives,” said BSP MP and spokesperson Ritesh Pandey. “Whatever development happens, the party in power is in a hurry to take its credit. They also forget that this is public money... The party in power uses this money for their own publicity which is a gross misuse of public money.”
On the Sultanpur event, Khanna said, “The BJP is trying to solidify the Purvanchal region through this inauguration... 119 km of this 340-km expressway passes through Sultanpur which is why it is being inaugurated there.” Another reason for this, he said, “could be that this government is entering the election arena with emphasis on the Ram temple”, and that the place was close to Ayodhya.
It is believed by many that the road to power in UP goes through the Purvanchal region and its 28 districts.
Earlier this month, the arrangement of buses to gather crowds for Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s event in Azamgarh was also done using public money.
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According to this report in Amar Ujala, the Azamgarh collector had asked the regional transportation officer to arrange these funds by writing a letter to PWD. The PWD paid for the buses using the emergency fund.
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