NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to throw open the Eastern Peripheral Expressway for the public by May 31, asking why were they "waiting" for its inauguration by the Prime Minister.
The apex court said if the 135-km expressway, which envisages signal-free connectivity between Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gautam Budh Nagar (Greater Noida) and Palwal, is not inaugurated on or before May 31, it should be thrown open for public who were facing traffic congestion in Delhi.
The Eastern and the Western Peripheral Expressways were planned in 2006 following the top court's order to build a ring road outside the national capital for channelling the traffic not bound for Delhi. The apex court had asked the Centre in 2005 to build the expressway around Delhi by July 2016 to decongest and "de-pollute" the national capital.
Today, the directions by the bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta came after it was informed by the NHAI counsel that the construction work was complete.
When the counsel said it was earlier scheduled to be inaugurated on April 29 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi but could not be done due to his prior commitments, the bench asked "why don't you inaugurate it?"
The court also said, "According to the newspapers, the Prime Minister will not be here tomorrow and day after tomorrow".
The bench also observed that it was earlier informed that the work of expressway was complete and it was likely to be inaugurated on or before April 20.
In a connected development soon after the court expressed anguish over the delay in opening of the expressway, Union Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari came out with a statement saying the expressway was almost ready to be inaugurated.
"Earlier there was little delay as a railway road overbridge could not be completed. Now that work has almost been completed. We are seeking time from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it will soon be inaugurated," Gadkari said.
During the hearing in the apex court, the NHAI counsel also said the ministry has sent a request to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for this.
Advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, told the bench that the people of Delhi were reeling under pollution and traffic problems and the NHAI should open the expressway for public use.
"Why you are waiting for it? You open it," the bench told the NHAI's counsel who again said it would be inaugurated by the Prime Minister.
To this, the bench said, "That is the problem. The High Court of Meghalaya was not inaugurated, but it is functioning for the last five years there. You cannot pass on the buck and say PMO, PMO only".
The amicus requested the court that expressway should be open for public and inauguration could be done later. She said "I think even the PMO will not have any objection".
The NHAI counsel assured the apex court that the Eastern Peripheral Expressway would be inaugurated by May 29.
"The NHAI shall ensure that the inauguration takes place on or before May 31, failing which it will be thrown open for public as Delhi is under traffic congestion and any delay in opening of the Eastern Peripheral Expressway will not in the interest of people of Delhi," the bench said.
In a jocular vein, Justice Lokur asked the NHAI that the expressway could also be inaugurated by Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, who was present, saying he had taken a lot of pain in this case. This led to peals of laughter in the courtroom.
Meanwhile, the counsel for Haryana government, informed the bench that 81 per cent work of the 135-km Western Peripheral Expressway was complete and the private entity doing the work has assured that construction would be completed by June 30.
According to the timeline, work on Western Peripheral Expressway, which connects Kundli to Palwal via Manesar in Haryana, was to be completed by February 2019 but the construction would be completed by June this year, the counsel said.
"Then you will say the Prime Minister will inaugurate it so wait," the bench said and asked Haryana government to ensure that the private concessionaire, involved in the work, sticks to its date of completion and the expressway be inaugurated immediately thereafter.