For the past two weeks, every conversation in Gurgaon’s Sultanpur village has centred around the inauguration of the Kundli-Manesar stretch of the Western Peripheral Expressway by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today. While some residents spend their evenings at tea stalls, eagerly discussing what it would be like to see the Prime Minister from up close and their expectations from the expressway itself, others occasionally visit the spot where the event is being held to see the flurry of activity amid last-minute preparations.
The 83-km stretch of the expressway that is the cause of all the excitement, however, has remained closed to the public as final touches were being put on the project. Officials said “maintenance, cleaning and beautification” work is still being carried out.
Once the six lanes of the expressway stretch are opened to commuters, the ring formed by the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways around Delhi will be complete, bringing to a close a project envisioned over 10 years ago to reduce the load of vehicles in the capital, as well as vehicular congestion and pollution in a perpetually choked city.
It was in 2003 that the Peripheral Expressways project was first conceived, as the need to reduce the pressure of non-destined commercial transit traffic in Delhi became impossible to ignore.
The project was divided into two sections — the Eastern Peripheral Expressway, running through both Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and the Western Peripheral Expressway, otherwise known as the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal (KMP) Expressway. In the years that followed, the capital’s air pollution problem became far more pronounced. Even as air quality remained abysmally low these past few months, the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences released the ‘Emission Inventory of Delhi for 2018’, which indicated that vehicular pollution in the region has increased by 40% between 2010 and 2018. The study also claimed that vehicles are responsible for 41% of the capital’s pollution.
An October 2015 report by the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) on the “strategies to reduce air pollution from trucks entering and leaving Delhi” provides further clarity on the matter, stating that “Delhi’s own vehicles are responsible for 62% of the particulate load from the transport sector and 69% of the NOx load”.
“The total number of light and heavy trucks that enter Delhi spew close to 30% of total particulate load and 22% of the total nitrogen oxide load from the transport sector… The pollution is highest in the city during the time when there is movement of heavy trucks,” the report stated.
In such a situation, the inauguration of the 135-km Eastern Peripheral Expressway, constructed at a cost of Rs 11,000 crore, in May this year was seen as a ray of hope. Officials anticipated that around 30,000 heavy vehicles would use it daily, bringing down the number of trucks that enter Delhi and aggravate the pollution.
Five months on, however, data provided by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) reveals that the flow of traffic has not been as high as expected, with around 14,000 heavy goods vehicles using the stretch on a daily basis.
“The Eastern Peripheral Expressway is used by 40,000-45,000 vehicles daily, and we make a toll collection of around Rs 79 lakh. Of these, around 30,000 are cars, both commercial and private, and 14,000 are heavy goods vehicles. Around 10,000 of the 14,000 tend to be trucks,” said an NHAI official, expressing confidence that these figures will go up with the inauguration of the Western Peripheral Expressway.
“The traffic on this stretch has been continuously increasing. On the first day, our toll collections added up to around Rs 4-5 lakh, which has today risen to Rs 79 lakh. We expect this will become over Rs 1 crore once the KMP expressway stretch is inaugurated and the ring is complete,” he said.
Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), echoed the sentiment: “The impact of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway is not fully felt yet since full connectivity is not there as the Western Peripheral Expressway has not been opened. Once this is done, we expect a substantial reduction in the load on Delhi.”
“Vehicles emit 40% of the total emission load in Delhi and 30% in NCR. In Delhi, about 15% of the 40% comes from trucks. We can estimate this because there was a significant change in air quality over the last few days when we stopped entry of trucks into Delhi… The Peripheral Expressways will give alternatives to vehicles that are not destined for Delhi but use it as a transit point,” said Narain.
The 135-km Western Peripheral Expressway connects four of the country’s busiest National Highways — NH1 near Kundli, NH10 near Bahadurgarh, NH8 at Manesar, and NH2 near Palwal — and allows commuters to bypass traffic coming from the north of Delhi on NH1, going to the south of Delhi on NH2, and to the west along NH8.
It provides signal-free connectivity to commuters headed towards Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, and is expected to relieve Delhi of hundreds of vehicles, providing a smoother commute for residents of the city and bringing down the number of traffic offenders, accidents and fatalities.
In a statement released earlier this year, Essel Infraprojects Limited, which is developing the Kundli-Manesar stretch of the expressway, said, “It is expected that because of the KMP Expressway, there would be a 30-35% drop in the number of vehicles entering Delhi, thereby significantly reducing pollution and congestion. Trucks and heavy vehicles not destined for Delhi but transiting through the city are a major contributor to air pollution in Delhi-NCR.”
Residents and commuters in the capital will not be the only ones to reap the benefits of the expressway, said officials from the Haryana government. “The expressway has been constructed with the aim of providing high-speed connectivity between Northern and Southern districts of Haryana. The introduction of this expressway will promote industrial activities and provide better connectivity to districts in other parts of the state,” said a Haryana government spokesperson.
Officials said the Haryana government also intends to initiate development activities in the five districts of Sonipat, Jhajjar, Mewat, Gurgaon and Palwal, which fall along the expressway, and has proposed to develop five cities along the stretch. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, at an event earlier this month, had said that the draft plan for the latter had already been prepared.
S P Singh, senior fellow and coordinator, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, estimates that the Western Peripheral Expressway will see four times the amount of traffic seen on its Eastern counterpart.
“There is more industrialisation along the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal stretch and several urban, big cities are also located there. In addition, the highest volume of traffic comes from NH8, so we expect that traffic on KMP expressway will be around four times than that on the Eastern Peripheral Expressway,” said Singh. “The expressway will help reduce driver fatigue, save time, maintain quality of vehicles and tyres… these are all crucial factors in an age of e-commerce, where timely delivery of goods is critical.”
It was in 2006 that the first concessionaire for the construction of the Western Peripheral Expressway was appointed, with a completion date of July 29, 2009 being set for the project. As the deadline passed and the project remained incomplete even until December 2014, the Supreme Court, in January 2015, directed the Haryana government to allot the task to another concessionaire. As a result, while the 83.320-km Kundli to Manesar section was allotted to Essel Infraprojects Limited, the 52.33-km Manesar to Palwal stretch was given to another concessionaire. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurated the latter in April 2016.
According to officials from Essel Infraprojects Limited, work on the Kundli-Manesar section of the Western Peripheral Expressway began on August 24, 2016, with a deadline of February 2, 2019, being set for its completion. The project, constructed at a cost of Rs 1,915 crore, is being delivered almost three months early.
Officials said that 7 lakh tonnes of cement and 65,000 tonnes of steel were used to complete the stretch, which includes eight minor bridges, six major bridges, four railway overhead bridges and 21 vehicular underpasses.
To ensure safety of commuters, chain-link fencing has been installed throughout the length of the expressway, along with three-metre-wide metal beam crash barriers.
Detailed plans have also been made to beautify this stretch, with 50,000 “super plants” being used to mitigate the effects of pollution, and “roadside furniture” such as fountains and sculptures every 10 metres.
A Haryana government spokesperson said, “Neem and Arjun trees will be planted on both sides of the expressway and bougainvillea plants of different colours will be planted on the dividers. The latter are being brought from Karnataka. Twenty-one sculptures, being prepared under the supervision of the Art Officer of the Cultural Affairs department, will be placed at various points along the expressway. These idols will depict the art and culture of Haryana, yoga and the Gita.”