On the Highway to Agra


Every morning, a file of children walks down the road that cuts through their villages. Each of them carries a shovel. All of them dropped out of school—the youngest among them is nine—to look for work on the 165-kilometre Yamuna Expressway. The biggest concrete road in the country and one of the most ambitious projects in Uttar Pradesh, the six-lane expressway that can be widened to an eight-lane one, will reduce travel time between Noida and Agra by about 90 minutes and is expected to bring development to the areas it runs through. At present, it takes about three-and-a-half hours to reach Agra from Delhi.

On a Wednesday morning near Piperauli Bangar in Mathura, the children crowd around a man who tells them to walk further up the "highway road". If they are lucky, they will find a truck waiting to be unloaded. So the children, dressed in rags, their faces covered in dust and fly ash that the road throws up, drag their shovels and walk on, looking for work. Time is running out for them—and for the road.

The state government had issued a directive, asking for the expressway to be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games this October but that looks unlikely. "We can't do it before April 2011. It is difficult to finish the project in 10 months. We are being realistic," says Samir Gaur, director in charge of Jaypee Infratech that is building the expressway.

The scale of work on the expressway is colossal. At least, 8,000 workers, 24 sub-contractors and more than 600 supervisors are working round the clock to meet the deadline. Land acquisition for the project—around 5,000 hectares for the expressway and an additional 6,000 hectares for development along the controlled access road, part of the ribbon expressway project—is almost over.

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