New Delhi: The 135 km-long Eastern Peripheral Expressway, after being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in UP’s Baghpat on 27 May, has fallen prey to a series of thefts amounting to Rs 4 crore.
Solar panels, barbed wires, iron gates on either sides of the expressway, LED lights installed in underpasses and steel fences have been stolen within less than a month of inauguration.
News18 drove through the new expressway from Dasna in Uttar Pradesh to Kundli in Haryana, a stretch of roughly 70 kms, only to be surprised at the extent of plunder.
The journey began with confusion and dearth of information. Both, Google’s and Apple’s global positioning system (GPS) had negligible clue on how to reach the starting point of the expressway. The confusion was fuelled by absence of sign-boards leading up to the high road.
After unavoidable traffic jams all over UP’s Ghaziabad, News18’s four-wheeler traced past national highway-24 to reach Dasna, where the intimidating six-lane expressway offered an entry point.
The National Capital Region (NCR) has very few pockets where cars clock speeds over a hundred kilometers an hour. Long stretches of empty and brand new roads on the expressway only add weight on the accelerator.
However, for the ones driving at saner speeds, the entire 70 km stretch is etched with visible examples of plunder.
Within the first ten kilometers, News18 witnessed that more than a dozen solar panels were stolen, inverters drawing power from them were lifted and even the iron rods supporting solar cells were not spared. The alleged perpetrators had very systemically unscrewed fibre sheets used to protect inverters from rain and had neatly removed iron fences as well.
Local care-takers confirmed that there was not one solar panel that was untouched. “Right from Dasna up to Kundli, especially around places bordering Baghpat, each and every panel has either been stolen or has witnessed a failed attempt at it. The highway cuts across villages. Locals from both sides come at night, when we go away and take away things. There is negligible police patrolling here,” said Dhananjay Singh, a local contractor responsible for setting up the panels and fences in the area.
In the next ten kilometers, the perpetrators had further stepped up their game. Apart from solar panels and steel fences, LED lights installed in underpasses, iron gates and barbed wires along the expressway had also fallen prey.
Interestingly, 26 kms away from Baghpat, upto where Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the expressway, each and every LED light has been stripped off along with water pipes stolen.
“These things had been installed for the locals. If they steal these away it will only affect them. Lights could have saved them from robbery but now the villagers are at own mercy till the time they get replaced,” said a local contractor who did not wish to be identified.
The rampant act of theft is reminiscent of the times when Indians protested against the ruling government by vandalising public goods and services.
News18 spoke to multiple sociologists in order to understand the probable reasons why locals indulged in such widespread theft despite the public utility being a prime example of development.
“The nation ought to develop. We surely deserve development. However, are we ready or not is something that needs further introspection. There is unrest among the people for sure and it comes out in these ways. Also, whenever something new and big comes up there is confusion in the population, which results in such activities. These have been going on for a long time but at smaller levels,” said Padma Bhushan recipient Andre Beteille, professor of sociology at Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.
Taking a detour, merely one kilometer into the villages, a local farmer accepted to having stolen lights and said he knows people who had lifted the solar panels.
“Nothing has changed for us after the expressway. We were living peacefully before as well. So we thought why not take the amenities, sell them and earn money from it,” bragged the local resident.
Ten kilometers further and we had entered the stretch which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister; spick and span. Local care-takers News18 met did not complain of any theft because of active police patrolling. Toll-booths were active which meant continuous surveillance.
“There needs to be better urban imagination. Providing facilities to the city dwellers needs to coincide with benefits for the local residents as well. It has to be trade off only then will individuals take collective pride in government run projects,” said Shiv Viswanathan, noted sociologist and professor at O P Jindal Global University.
The narrative of mass plunder had reached a temporary end with the car reaching Kundli, in Haryana. However, the problem of non-identification with flamboyant projects still continues as the Eastern Peripheral Expressway remains to reel under theft even as the article ends.