In February 2020, just weeks before the country was pushed into a lockdown due to Covid-19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the Bundelkhand Expressway in Chitrakoot.
Less than two-and-a-half years later, the Prime Minister will return to the region, often referred to as one of the most economically deprived parts of the country, to inaugurate the 296 kilometer long expressway.
The Bundelkhand e-way, which will become the fourth major expressway to be operationalised in the state, was proposed by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in April 2017, just months after he came to power following a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As its name suggests, the expressway passes through the districts in Uttar Pradesh's Bundelkhand — Chitrakoot, Banda, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Jalaun and Auraiya. It originates in Bharatkoop on National Highway 35, which is also called the Varanasi-Banda road, in the Chitrakoot district, and ends near Kudrail village in Etawah district on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway.
It links the semi-arid and drought-prone region to the National Capital Region via the Lucknow-Agra and Yamuna (Agra-Noida) expressways.
The Bundelkhand region, spread across south-western Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh, is electorally important for the BJP. In the 2017 assembly election, the party won all 19 Vidhan Sabha seats in the seven districts that form Uttar Pradesh’s part of Bundelkhand.
The party bagged all the four Lok Sabha seats in the region in 2019, repeating its performance of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In the 2022 assembly election, the BJP managed to retain 16 of the 19 Vidhan Sabha seats.
For construction, the four-lane expressway, which can be expandable to six lanes in the future, was divided into six packages. Bids for all the packages were invited by the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), the nodal agencies for the construction and maintenance of expressways in the state, in February 2019.
A total of 82 separate bids were received by UPEIDA from 17 bidders, with 10 contenders bidding for all six packages of the project.
The bids for Bundelkhand Expressway were opened in October 2019. Apco Infratech was awarded packages 1 and 2, Ashoka Buildcon Limited package 3, Gawar Constructions Limited packages 4 and 5, and Dilip Buildcon was awarded the sixth package of the expressway.
The Bundelkhand Expressway project holds a record for the fastest acquisition of land for a highway project in Uttar Pradesh as over 3,440 hectares of land was acquired for the project within 10 months of the start of the process, without protests from farmers or other stake holders.
Efficient acquisition of land for the Bundelkhand Expressway helped the state government cut down cost escalation by around 12 per cent.
The construction of the expressway began soon after the Prime Minister laid a foundation stone for the project on 29 February 2020 and was to be completed in 36 months. Despite the pandemic-induced lockdowns slowing down the construction of the expressway in 2020, the project has been completed eight months ahead of deadline.
As the most thinly populated part of the state, Bundelkhand has traditionally experienced bias from governments in Lucknow and Delhi, which has translated into poor connectivity in the region.
Over the years, this has inhibited investment and economic growth. The operationalisation of the Bundelkhand Expressway will eliminate the connectivity barrier.
Bundelkhand is flanked in the east and the west by the two most popular tourist circuits in the the country. To the east lies the Prayagraj-Sarnath-Varanasi tourism triangle and the Agra-Mathura-Fatehpur Sikri circuit lies to the west of the region. Jhansi and Chitrakoot, two major tourism destinations in Bundelkhand, can attract tourists from both these circuits.
“If someone can travel to Chitrakoot from Delhi in five and a half hours, why wouldn’t he go there, spend time as a tourist and come back? If going to Chitrakoot from Delhi takes nine hours, then the person going there has to plan for three days — one day for going, one day for seeing the place and one for the return journey. That, generally, people will not accept. That’s why we have gone for expressways,” Awanish Awasthi, the Chief Executive Officer of UPEIDA, said in a conversation with Swarajya in 2020.
“If you want to bring industrialisation in a large state like UP, you need to have expressways so that connectivity to the areas concerned is good. For example, no industry will go to Bundelkhand unless there is good connectivity," the UPEIDA CEO added.
“A four-lane road which doesn’t have access control will slow down movement. That’s the issue,” Awasthi said, adding, “if you want to make the state a 1 trillion dollar economy, expressways are absolutely necessary,” Awasthi said.
“UP is a very big state and our view is that unless and until we improve connectivity we can’t move forward in the long run. These expressways are projects which are going to be there for the next 50 to 100 years. Once you open an area through expressways, it leads to a lot of qualitative change in the environment,” he added.
The Expressway will reduce the travel time between Chitrakoot and the National Capital Region to six hours from 10 to 12 hours.
Built at a cost of Rs 14,850 crore, the Bundelkhand Expressway is critical for the success of the UP Defence Corridor, which was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharama in the 2018-19 budget.
Two of the six major nodes of the UP defence corridor — Jhansi and Chitrakoot — lie in the Bundelkhand region.
Uttar Pradesh already has three Hindustan Aeronautics Limited manufacturing units, nine Ordnance Factories, Bharat Electronics Limited and other state-owned companies that are part of the defence sector.
Most of these plants are in Lucknow, Kanpur and the adjoining regions, which are within the 300-350 km radius of Bundelkhand.
In recent years, Kanpur has attracted investment in defence manufacturing from the private sector. Recently, the Lohia Group invested nearly Rs 100 crore in a greenfield aerospace and defence hardware plant in Kanpur.
MKU, a defence manufacturing firm headquartered in Kanpur has been supplying equipment to the Indian Army since the last 1980s, and to militaries, paramilitaries and police services in other countries as well.
Among other things, the company is manufacturing ballistic helmets for the Indian Army at its unit Malwan in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district, a 40-minute drive away from Kanpur, and a little over 130 km away from Chitrakoot, one of the six nodes of the corridor.
Therefore, there exists a defence manufacturing ecosystem in Uttar Pradesh that can be leveraged to attract investment in Bundelkhand.
As land costs rise in the existing industrial hubs such as Kanpur, Bundelkhand can emerge as a new destination for investment in defence manufacturing.
The improvement in connectivity within the region and between the nodes of the Defence Corridor with the construction of the Bundelkhand Expressway will add to the advantage of low-cost labour and land in this region.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!