SC notice to Centre on plea for mandatory common utility duct along highways

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Central government on a PIL seeking directions to mandatorily provide common utility duct or corridors for all public utilities in the construction plan of highways and other roadways to avoid duplication of civil works.

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

The plea filed by Haripriya Patel sought directions to the government to ensure that all public utility service providers mandatorily use the facilities and 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 and specific provision for such facilities in guidelines dated November 22, 2016 issued by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), Government of India and National Digital Communications Policy 2018.

The plea sought direction to the government to implement the November 22, 2016 guidelines of MoRTH, Government of India, and National Digital Communications Policy 2018 which contemplate common utility ducts and 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 and 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 and other utility services. It will lead to better utilization of capital expenditure on infrastructure and boost the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Infrastructure of our country.”

“Joint construction of highways and 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; and uninterrupted telecom network and service,” the plea added.

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 and causes additional traffic and road safety issues, the petition further submitted

It further stated that the proposal of common utility ducts along the roadways have been under consideration by various government bodies since 2002 and various government policies and guidelines also propose the same, however, the said proposal is yet to be approved due to lack of coordination between different government ministries/departments and thus, the said proposal is stuck in a bureaucratic bottleneck for the last 20 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.