SC notice to Centre on plea for Mandatory common utility duct along Highways

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On Wednesday, the Apex Court issued notice to the Central Govt on a Public Interest Litigation seeking directions to mandatorily provide common utility duct or corridors for all public utilities in the construction plan of highways & other roadways to avoid duplication of civil works.

A Bench headed by CJI SA Bobde while asking the Govt to reply on the plea said, “We will see this. It’s a good idea. Notice issued.”

The petition filed by Haripriya Patel sought directions to the Govt to ensure that all public utility service providers mandatorily use the facilities & avoid unnecessary re-digging or trenching of roadways.

The underground ducts along the roads carrying all public utility cables like that of water, electricity, telephone or gas, would make the repairing or wiring work easier.

The petitioner said the plea was filed highlighting the failure of the relevant authorities to mandatorily provide for common utility duct or utility corridors along the highways for all utilities in the construction plan of large infrastructure projects, despite recommendations for such facilities by various expert bodies & specific provision for such facilities in guidelines dated Nov 22, 2016, issued by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), Government of India & National Digital Communications Policy 2018.

The plea sought direction to the Govt to implement the Nov 22, 2016 guidelines of MoRTH, Government of India, & National Digital Communications Policy 2018 which contemplate common utility ducts & corresponding regulations.

Not providing common utility duct or utility corridors is causing “unnecessary expenditure” on subsequent execution of the same work by public utility services such as telecom companies & other agencies, plea stated.

“There is a long-standing proposal for adopting a holistic method while executing large infrastructure projects relating to roadways, which shall include provision for IT network & other utility services. It will lead to better utilization of capital expenditure on infrastructure & boost the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Infrastructure of our country.”

The plea added that “Joint construction of highways & telecom network is not only feasible but pragmatic because multiple ducts laid along the highway can be used to avoid duplication of civil work for various essential public services, thereby avoiding loss of public funds; avoid rapid deterioration of roads due to recurring civil work (excavation/trenching) on account of various essential public services; avoid road accidents due to perennial maintenance of the infrastructure projects; real time highway traffic management; implementation of efficient toll facilities; & uninterrupted telecom network & service”.

Most importantly, the proposal to lay common utility ducts seeks to replace the prevalent practice of laying the road first and re-digging it to lay ducts later, which adds to the capital cost & causes additional traffic & road safety issues, the petition further submitted

It further said that the proposal of common utility ducts along the roadways have been under consideration by various Govt bodies since 2002 & various Govt policies & guidelines also propose the same, however, the said proposal is yet to be approved due to lack of coordination between different government ministries/departments & thus, the said proposal is stuck in a bureaucratic bottleneck for the last twenty years approximately.

The common utility duct proposal will benefit all the stakeholders without exception, especially, when our country is set for the rapid expansion of road infrastructure as well as IT infrastructure in the present decade, the petitioner submitted.

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