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Truants in highway roll-call

- Notable MPs skip Union minister Oscar Fernandes’ invite

Ranchi, Dec. 5: Union road transport and highways minister Oscar Fernandes, who invited all 20 MPs of Jharkhand today in New Delhi for a meeting on national highways criss-crossing the state, was greeted by notable absentees, including those from the BJP and JMM, making the attendance sheet politically charged.

Though confirmation of who did and who did not attend the central meeting is trickling in slowly, it is known that BJP MPs Nishikant Dubey, Yashwant Sinha and JMM Rajya Sabha MP Sanjeev Kumar chose not to go to Delhi.

Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay of the Congress and Rajya Sabha MP and former state Congress chief Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, however, attended the meeting that seemed to become a miniature UPA affair.

In the absence of a full show, those who went, voiced their grievances before Fernandes. The Union minister, predictably, promised to fast-track the revival of highways criss-crossing the state.

Jharkhand has a national highway length of 1,850km, of which around 500km — including the 330km-long state lifeline NH-33 and parts of NH-2 — is maintained directly by National Highways Association of India (NHAI). State road construction department (national highways wing) looks after the rest.

Ranchi MP Sahay, also former Union minister, told The Telegraph over phone they had stressed on the dilapidated NH-33 and, to a lesser extent, NH-32 stretches.

Chief minister Hemant Soren, on the other hand, told The Telegraph that NH-33 was not being repaired despite prods.

Asked if he held the view that the powers-that-be in Delhi did not want to repair roads for the fear that Hemant and JMM would get credit, the chief minister, faced with a tight-rope walk of coalition compulsions, kept quiet. “Efforts of even Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh went unheard,” he said.

“The road is under NHAI’s jurisdiction otherwise state government would have thought about investing its own resources to maintain them,” the chief minister added.

Not present at the MPs-only show today, Hemant added he had a discussion with Fernandes on the matter and that he would try to meet the Union minister during his Delhi stay. Hemant is in the national capital till tomorrow.

Sahay said they stressed on pitiable parts of Ranchi-Jamshedpur and Hazaribagh-Barhi stretches of NH-33 and Dhanbad-Purulia-Chandil parts of NH-32. “We requested him to ensure their proper maintenance for the areas alongside to reach their full economic potential,” Sahay said.

The Jharkhand delegation also raised the issue of the “much-needed bypasses” in Chandil and Govindpur-Dhanbad (NH-32) and near Ramgarh district town (NH-33).

Sahay reported Union minister Fernandes was “very cooperative”.

An NHAI senior official told The Telegraph already as many as 29 reminders have been given in past six months or so to the concessionaire, Madhucon Projects Limited, to improve the condition of the existing two-lane stretch between Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

“They are doing the repair work in bits and pieces. But the progress is far below satisfaction,” an NHAI engineer said.

Currently, the onus of major repair and maintenance lie with Madhucon, the agency entrusted with the Rs 1,479-crore four-laning work. In April 2011, Ranchi Expressway Limited, a special purpose vehicle of Madhucon, had signed a concession agreement with NHAI for the widening project under BOT-annuity basis, with a semi-annuity of Rs 133.50 crore. The agency was to complete the project by June 2015 and maintain the road for 15 years. But the work could be started only early this year.

On October 20, Hemant even threatened to take legal action against the agency if it failed to improve the stretch within stipulated deadline of November. November came and went.