National Highway No:1: India’s melancholy road

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Pipli (Haryana) : Harkirat Singh has driven on the Ambala-New Delhi section of the busy National Highway No. 1 (NH-1) many times. What used to be a leisurely drive is now a harrowing experience for him and many others.

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On Tuesday, Harkirat was forced to divert his car from NH-1 into link roads passing through villages short of Pipli town in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district. A liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) filled tanker overturned near Pipli and gas started leaking from it. This forced the traffic diversion.

“One, I didn’t know where I was going on the village link roads. I just followed some other vehicles. Secondly, driving on the pot-holed roads was not my idea of cruising on the highway. My journey time was extended by a couple of hours,” an exasperated Harkirat told IANS.

Once touted as the country’s best highway, NH-1 today is a story of diversions, pot-holed link roads through villages and bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.

The 456-km-long highway, which connects the national capital New Delhi to Attari town in Punjab, right up at the international border with Pakistan, is fast becoming an ordeal for motorists owing to never-ending road construction and expansion work, bottlenecks created by accidents, rains and other obstacles.

“People have to drive through link roads in villages. The volume of traffic on these roads caused total chaos. Even on the highway, there were traffic jams,” Chandigarh-based trader Sunil Sharma told IANS.

The authorities Tuesday diverted hundreds of motor vehicles moving on the highway near Pipli as they did not want to take any chances with the LPG leaking from the tanker. The gas was taken out from the overturned tanker Wednesday and filled in another tanker.

“Three teams of experts from the Panipat (oil) refinery, National Fertilizers (Panipat) and the Panipat bottling plant have reached the spot. Traffic will be restored after the gas is transferred to another tanker,” Kurukshetra district police chief Parul Jain said.

This is not an one-off incident.

Motorists have to drive through diversions and single-road traffic at several points between Ambala and Karnal section in Haryana.

In the last few months, the highway has been blocked at least three-to-four times at various places in Haryana. This has led to traffic blockades and jams of up to six hours.

NH-1, which is also popularly known by its older name Grand Trunk Road (GT Road), is 202 km long in Haryana.

“I have never seen the NH-1 (works) completed in the last two decades. It is always being constructed or widened. The three-hour journey from Delhi to Chandigarh (250 km) takes five-six hours at times. I don’t know what is happening,” rued Gurgaon-based entrepreneur Sandeep Brar, a regular on the highway.

In neighbouring Punjab, motorists driving between the industrial town of Phagwara and Jalandhar (20 km distance) also face diversions through villages.

“The newly constructed NH-1 stretch between Phagwara and Jalandhar got damaged in rains in recent days. The 15-minute journey can take up to two hours,” Phagwara resident Balwant Singh told IANS.

NH-1 in Punjab is 254 km long, from the Shambu barrier (near Rajpura town) till the Attari border.

The highway is not only used by thousands of motorists from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and the union territory of Chandigarh but also by hundreds of trucks and buses.

“If you drive from Delhi to Amritsar, you have to encounter at least 10 toll barriers. Even after being left poorer by Rs.400-500, the highway is hardly a pleasure to drive,” Amritsar resident Pawan Saxena said.

Between Delhi and Amritsar, the highway crosses important towns like Panipat, Sonipat, Karnal, Ambala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and other smaller towns.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])