The Candid Eye

January 12, 2010

Every 25 km, PM and Sonia will wish you on highways!!

The government may be shouting “austerity” from the rooftop, but on the ground, literally, it is planning to indulge in lavish self-adulation. The National High Authority of India (NHAI) proposes to put up 1,488 billboards with pictures of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi lining national highways.

The Prime Minister & Manmohan Singh : Image Courtesy - http://www.cartoonistgautam.com/

If the cost of each 20 ft x 10 ft billboard is estimated at Rs 4 lakh, the entire project would amount to around Rs 60 crore. The billboards staring at travellers every 25 kilometres on both sides of the national highways across the country will be alternatively in English, Hindi and the regional language. The boards will display project-related information like the name of the concessionaire, the name of the supervision engineers, project cost, name of project director and telephone number, so that anyone can call in case of a complaint. The information was given by the Centre in a reply to a RTI application filed by SC Agarwal.

However, the NHAI has said that the display boards are to be provided “at the cost of the contractor” and the NHAI would not incur any expenditure on this account. The NHAI head office issued a circular dated October, 2009, to all its project directors regarding provision of display boards at 25-km intervals on both sides.

The idea may be a takeoff from the NDA government. Picture boards carrying photographs of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been put up on National Highways during the NDA regime. But, these had to be covered later on directions of the then Election Commission because of Lok Sabha elections. These boards were later changed or removed causing wasteful expenditure of first putting them up and then dismantling them. At that time, Congress had criticised the effort of highways minister B C Khanduri. Now, BJP is attacking highways and surface transport minister Kamal Nath, saying highways are national assets and cannot be used to fulfil a political agenda.

The NHAI is drawing a distinction between Mr Vajpayee’s boards and the proposed ones of the Congress leaders, saying the earlier boards did not contain project information and were fixed on the overhead gantry giving direction and distance information.

However, the project could land in a controversy given that putting up pictures of political leaders was mere propaganda and may be brought down with the change of government at the Centre.

Source : ET

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