Nitish Kumar’s promise that people from remote corners of Bihar can reach Patna by road within six hours has hit a bumpy patch.
Ask any frequent commuter between Patna and Hajipur, located to the south and north of the Ganga respectively, about the time taken to cover the distance between these two places. They will tell you anything between one and five hours depending on the condition of traffic on Gandhi Setu, the three-decade old dilapidated bridge which is undergoing renovation.
A similar reply would be in the offing from a commuter between Patna and Fatuha (east), a distance of 18km, thanks to the frequent traffic snarls caused by the poor condition of the road and violation of traffic rules.
“Nitish Kumar’s statement that one can reach Patna from anywhere in the state in six hours is a cruel joke,” says Shiv Kumar, a resident of the chief minister’s home district of Nalanda, who recently got stuck in a traffic jam at Fatuha for over three hours.
Even those accessing Patna from the south (Gaya) and west (Bhojpur) are facing similar problems.
“It is hard to believe that one can get stuck in a traffic jam for over three hours. The condition of roads is deplorable. One does not feel like travelling by road. But there is no option,” adds Shiv.
Smooth roads and increased traffic flow were tom-tommed as Nitish’s big achievements of his first term in power. Those very roads are now attracting criticism for their poor condition — riddled with potholes, craters and extensive damages.
Take for example the Gandhi Setu, the lifeline that links Patna to north Bihar. A fault in the superstructure of the bridge has forced closure of a good portion of the western lane to traffic. This leads to massive traffic snarls on a regular basis.
A senior National Highways Authority of India official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Telegraph: “For some time, we were given the task to prepare a report for improving the condition of Gandhi Setu and also to explore the possibility of constructing a new bridge parallel to the existing one. However, when we suggested changes in the superstructure, the government stepped back.
“In Bihar, there is no chance of improving road and traffic conditions. There is too much political interference. For example, to get rid of the traffic snarl, we were given the task of constructing a four-lane road from Patna to Buxar. Everything was done, the work was awarded to Gammon Infrastructure Projects Limited. However, at the last minute we received a letter from a state minister to change the alignment of the road from Bihta. We were forced to stop work and now the project is just stalled.”
Commuters get stuck for hours on the Koilwar bridge (south) over the river Sone while going towards Buxar. Even the road is in bad condition. Local contractors have been given the job to maintain the road. For this, the contractor gets paid between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 1 crore by the government.
“We should not be blamed for not maintaining the road properly, you just see the number of heavy vehicles plying. There are some trucks having more than 30 wheels, very heavy and they damage the roads. We cannot maintain it every month. In reality, we are supposed to carry out maintenance work every three months,” said a contractor responsible for maintaining a stretch of road between Patna and Ara.
Vehicles from the south get stuck on the Gaya road. To alleviate the problem, the government has announced projects to build four-lane roads and bridges. But except the Patna-Bakhtiyarpur four-lane road which is likely to become functional by April 2014, the fate of the rest hangs in balance.
The Patna-Gaya-Dobhi four-lane road will take another three years to be completed, the Patna-Buxar four-lane road is already delayed due to political intervention and the bridge parallel to Gandhi Setu from Kacchi Dargah to Biddupur is yet to take off.
Secretary, road construction, Pratyaya Amrit said the department had achieved its dream of six-hour travel to Patna. “As secretary, I can say on record that we have achieved our target of reaching Patna from any corner of the state in six hours by road. After entering Patna, if someone gets stuck on Gandhi Setu, it does not mean that our target has not been achieved,” he said. “We are trying to reduce the journey time from six to five hours,” Amrit added.
The reality, sadly, is different and often nightmarish.
As any person travelling to Patna by road will say.