Patna, Sept. 10: The Nitish Kumar government is betting big on rural roads, drawing up an ambitious roadmap, which, if implemented, could change the face of Bihar.
In the next five years, the state is aiming to pump in Rs 20,000 crore for construction of rural roads. “By 2017, we aim to link all villages in the state having a population of more than 250 with all-weather roads,” said Bhim Singh, the minister in charge of the rural engineering organisation department.
The department is in the process of issuing tenders for the construction of 2,500km of roads at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore.
During the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi era, the rural engineering organisation was treated as a minor department, said officials who spoke under cover of anonymity.
“The total budget of the department was less than Rs 200 crore. This financial year, the department’s budget is over Rs 1,800 crore,” said an official, stressing that around 50km to 60km of rural roads were being constructed every day.
Minister Bhim Singh said that since 2005, when Nitish came to power, around 22,000km of rural roads has been built in Bihar.
Thanks to Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh, the Centre has agreed to foot the bill for 4,000km of rural roads under the Prime Minister’s Gramin Sadak Yojana this year. The scheme aims to link villages having a population of 500 and more.
The state government is going to fund roads for hamlets having a population up to 250 people. “The state government will need Rs 20,000 crore in the next five years for connecting every village by all-weather roads. Apart from footing Rs 2,000 crore per year from the state’s resources, we hope to get central funds and money from the Planning Commission. We will seek additional funds from World Bank and Nabard,” said a rural engineering official.
The department is in the process of carrying out a detailed survey of the state, which is expected to be completed by the end of September. “After that we will make a detailed list of roads to be constructed district-wise and block-wise. We will send the list to all MLAs who have to mark their priorities and make amendments within 20 days. After they (MLAs) send back their recommendations, the work will begin on a war-footing,” said an official.
The official said a massive recruitment drive would be launched to fill up the vacancies of this under-staffed department. “Right now, we are operating with just 50 per cent staff,” he said.
Roads were considered a joke in the Lalu-Rabri era, spawning several tales, including the most popular one in which the RJD chief promised to make roads in Bihar as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks. It was reported that Lalu Prasad mocked at demands for better roads made at his public meetings, saying that was for people who owned Marutis.
“But since then, the people’s perception has changed. During NDA-I, we improved the state and national highways, apart from rural roads. That earned us political dividends in the elections,” said Bhim Singh, asserting that in the 21st century, development did mean votes.