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Rebel zone roads hit funds bump

Ranchi, Nov. 23: A Centre-funded initiative to build roads criss-crossing the hinterland of Maoist strongholds may be trundling along in Jharkhand but as many as four of 10 such ambitious projects are non-starters because of funds and tendering issues.

While the state road construction department has made nine abortive bids to find a contractor to execute the Latehar-Morwai-Garu road and Chandwa-Mahuamilan-McCluskieganj road, it has been unable to make progress on two other projects — Lohardaga-Kisko-Richuguta and Pratappur-Dumarwar — due to cost escalations.

To be executed under the ambitious Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) scheme funded and monitored by the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), these projects were sanctioned in the 2010-11 financial year. But Jharkhand has had a particularly bad run, in spite of repeated reminders from the Centre.

In case of the two roads in Latehar district, the department is in the process of inviting fresh tenders again. “The roads pass through treacherous terrain and no contractor wants to take up jobs in these areas,” said Patwari Soren, the state road construction department’s chief engineer.

He admitted the main concern was extortion threats and the very real possibility that work could be stalled anytime. “Even MLAs tried to convince some contractors to at least join the bidding process, but that did not work either,” he added.

In case of the Lohardaga-Kisko-Richuguta and Pratappur-Dumarwar roads in Naxalite-hit Lohardaga and Chatra districts, contractors were finally chosen after seven attempts. But now the road construction department is faced with a funds crunch as costs have escalated.

“In the last two years, costs have escalated beyond 11-12 per cent. Although we have been able to find agencies for Lohardaga and Chatra district roads, lowest rates quoted by them are more than the amounts sanctioned in 2010-11,” said Soren.

The department is now planning to send revised estimates to the Union ministry of road transport & highways (MoRTH) that reviews projects for the home ministry.

Sources said Lohardaga and Chatra divisions had been asked to prepare revised estimates and send them to the state headquarters as soon as possible.

The Lohardaga-Kisko-Richuguta stretch is a lifeline for the district’s bauxite zone while the Pratappur-Dumarwar road stretches up to Bihar border (Gaya district), a hotbed of rebel activity.

Soren said the department was now preparing for the second phase of the Centre’s scheme for which as many as 21 road projects would be taken up. But the MoRTH has asked the state to provide every detail well in advance.

Among the factors the ministry wanted to look at were extent of Maoist presence, status of land acquisition and forest clearances.


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