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Firms to stay on in NC Hills

Guwahati, Aug. 24: The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is likely to persist with the four firms it had earlier showcased for delay in work on the East-West corridor in Assam’s North Cachar Hills district to avoid further delay and legal complications.

Sources in the NHAI said it would not press for termination of the contracts of the firms because of several factors but would maintain pressure on them and Dispur to get the work done at the earliest.

A high-level delegation of the NHAI and senior representatives of these firms will discuss security-related issues in the volatile district with Dispur soon.

The NHAI, which had a meeting with the firms in Delhi on Tuesday, will also raise the issue at a meeting convened by cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar on the situation in NC Hills and its adjoining districts on August 31. A final decision on the firms is also likely to be taken at the meeting.

In June this year, the Centre had decided to terminate the contracts of four of the five firms engaged in construction of the 135km stretch of the East-West corridor, one of the two national projects severely hit by militancy in NC Hills.

On July 6, the NHAI assured Dispur that it would terminate the contracts of Gammon India, Valecha Engineering, TBL and Continental Engineering Corporation to expedite the project. The decision was taken after the firms refused to resume work on the project citing poor law and order situation.

However, a reality check done by NHAI has all but convinced it that replacement of the firms would not help in taking the project forward in any manner in the prevailing situation.

“We will have to look at the ground situation before taking a decision about the firms. First, to get the firms replaced we will need at least six to eight months. Second, what is the guarantee that they will be able to deliver if the security environment in the district remains the same? Third, we will have to cough up a huge compensation to the firms if the contracts are terminated.

“Last but not the least, the admission by the Centre that the situation in NC Hills is problematic and worrisome has only vindicated the stand of the firms that they have not been able to execute the contracts satisfactorily because of the poor law and order situation,” an NHAI source said.

The unilateral ceasefire offered by the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) is also a positive development that has resulted in the resumption of train services in the district, he added.

The August 31 meeting with the cabinet secretary will be crucial not only from the point of view of the two virtually stalled national projects — East West Corridor and the railway gauge conversion — in the district but also about the efforts to get the DHD (J) to the negotiating table.

The NHAI has also decided to earmark around Rs 25 crore to Rs 28 crore for the maintenance of National Highway 54 that runs through the NC Hills to the state PWD. The latter, however, is not very keen to take up the job.

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