Sunday, June 4, 2023

Widening of NH-112: Rajasthan High Court dismisses PIL alleging deviation from approved plan

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The Rajasthan High Court has dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which alleged deviation from the approved structural plan for widening of the NH-112 (Bar-Banar Section and ROB at Three-Way Junction) near Banar village.

Aidan Choudhary, Counsel representing the petitioners, vehemently and fervently urged that in the previous round, when the petitioners realised that the respondent NHAI was constructing the Highway by deviating from the originally approved structural plan, wherein a flyover/over bridge was proposed to be constructed at the Three-Way Junction near Banar village.

They approached this Court by filing a petition, wherein the respondents submitted an affidavit that the road over bridge would be constructed and on this assurance, the Court accepted this assertion of the respondents and accordingly, the writ petition was disposed of. 

However, subsequently, the respondents proceeded to construct the Highway without the road overbridge.

Furthermore, the construction of the road, as it exists, has been done without adhering to the mandatory requirements of the Indian Road Congress Guidelines (the IRC Guidelines).

Appropriate slip lanes have not been provided near the locations where there are public facilities, school, etc. thereby causing a serious hazard for the school children.

On these grounds, Choudhary implored the Court to accept the petition and direct the respondents to construct a road overbridge as per the assurance given in this Court or in the alternative, to create slip lanes for the entire stretch of the road.

Considering the nature of averments made by the petitioners, the Court had, by a detailed order dated 20.10.2021, posed certain questions to the respondents.

After receiving the response of the respondents, the High Court, by order dated 24.01.2022, appointed  Devi Lal Vyas as Court Commissioner to visit the road in question and to prepare a local site plan with all relevant measurements.

Consequent thereto, the Court Commissioner prepared the report and submitted it on record on 15.03.2022. 

In reply and counter affidavits filed by the NHAI (National Highways Authority Of India) , it has been pleaded that the instant  petition is not maintainable.

The road in question has been constructed with the strict adherence to the  provisions contained in the National Highways Rules 1956 and the IRC Guidelines, 2014.

Widening of the four strip lanes was carried out by acting upon the design prepared by the technical experts.

The construction of the highway in question was completed well before the earlier PIL came to be filed and the present petition has been filed with oblique motives.

Reliance was placed on the Supreme Court Judgment in the case of Union of India vs. Dr. Kushala Shetty & Ors. reported in AIR 2011 SC 3210 and implored the Court to dismiss the writ petition with heavy cost.

At the outset, the Division Bench of Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Kuldeep Mathur noted that the petitioners heavily relied upon the proceedings of the earlier Petition  (Parbat Dan & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors.) wherein, the NHAI submitted an affidavit to the effect that the widening project would be in accordance with the approved structural plan.

As per the petitioners, in the originally approved structural plan, there was a proposal to raise construction of a road overbridge.

However, a perusal of the affidavit filed by the Project Director in the said PIL indicated that the lanes in question are falling within 500 meters from the sensitive military installations.

The Defence officials intimated the NHAI officials that construction of the proposed over bridge would have an impact on the sensitive military installations and could pose a threat to the national security and thus, after getting served of this communication of the Defence officials, the NHAI officials were left with no option except to review the overbridge in question.  

The High Court has perused the order dated 22.01.2020 passed by the Division Bench of the  court in the  petition filed by Parbat and another and found that there is no indication in this order that the NHAI would be constructing a road over bridge at the location in question.  
Having gone through the pleadings of the parties, the report of the Court Commissioner and the site plan and DPRs placed on record, the High Court  found that widening of the highway in question had been carried out strictly in accordance with the National Highway Rules and the IRC Guidelines, 2014.

While finally arguing the matter, Aidan Choudhary, learned counsel representing the petitioners, only limited his arguments to the non-construction of the slip lanes at certain portions of the roads, however, Sunil Joshi, Advocate representing the NHAI, submitted that the requirement of constructing the slip lanes is governed by the flow of the traffic.

As per Joshi, after taking the complete traffic senses figures, the slip lanes had been constructed in the urban areas adjoining the section of the highway.

The area of the road, which was referred to by the petitioners’ counsel alleging that the slip lanes have not been constructed, is beyond the sanctioning stretch of the highways and in the rural area where there is no requirement of constructing the slip lanes. Despite that, the NHAI officials had taken all the safety measures.  

First of all, the High Court  emphasizes that the plea taken by the petitioners’ counsel that the NHAI has constructed the road contrary to the assurance given in an earlier Petition  is totally unfounded.

The Court has extensively considered the affidavit of Project Director, referred to supra, and found that in this affidavit, it was emphatically mentioned that the proposal to construct the road over bridge was not found viable because of the reservations conveyed by the Defence officials. 

“It is not in dispute that the road in question is very closeby to sensitive defence installations and hence, any construction around such area would have to be undertaken by keeping the interest and security of the defence installations as a paramount consideration. “

After receiving the affidavit of the NHAI official, the earlier Petition  was dismissed by the High Court finding that all proposals of the road widening were compliant with law.

The petitioners have admittedly filed the instant petition after the road widening and construction of the highway was completed.

After having considered the submissions made at bar, the Court appointed Shri Devi Lal Vyas as Court Commissioner and his report is sufficient to satisfy the Court that construction of the road is being undertaken strictly as per the applicable norms, rules and the Indian Road Congress Guidelines, 2014.   

“The last ditch effort of the petitioners’ counsel to question the bonafides of the NHAI officials was pertaining to non construction of a slip lane. However, we find that the said submission is also devoid of merit because slip lanes have been constructed on both the sides of the road where the stretch  passes through the urban area.

“As has been pointed out by Shri Joshi through an affidavit of the NHAI official, the construction of the slip lane is dependent on the width of the road. The traffic senses figures, which have been presented on record, would clearly indicate that neither the width of the road nor the extent of the slip lanes, are inadequate,” the order read.

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