Insight: Road to nowhere: the longest expressway India never had
By Matthias Williams
BALLIA, India (Reuters) - In a wheat field near the mighty Ganges river stands a cracked foundation stone surrounded by nibbling goats and farmers driving their cattle in the baking sun.
Unveiled more than four years ago, it's all that remains of an ambition to build India's longest expressway, an eight-lane, 1,050-km (650-mile) road that would have run through Uttar Pradesh state and connected one of the country's most backward regions to the doorstep of the nation's capital.
Supporters of the Ganga Expressway project say it would have helped transform Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and one of its poorest, and the lives of its 200 million people by slashing travel times and letting industry and townships sprout.
But having been in and out of the headlines for years, the project has all but crumbled under the weight of political wrangling, opposition from farmers whose fields would have suffered, and a court order in 2009 stalling construction on environmental grounds.
"It's one of those projects that can change the development map of a region," said Gopal Sarma of the consulting firm Bain & Company.
"At the same time, there is the whole issue of how do you deal with people who have held onto pieces of land for literally hundreds of years, and are not really looking at compensation but are looking to continue a way of life that they have had?"
The failure of the Ganga Expressway offers a snapshot of India's chronic infrastructure woes and a reality check on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent promise to speed up more than 200 key projects.
New Delhi has set an ambitious target to pump $1 trillion into an overhaul of infrastructure over the next five years, revamping roads, building airports and tackling endemic power blackouts. But, as the Ganga Expressway shows, such targets are all too often held hostage to harsh realities on the ground. Continued...