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Race to repair road before Mamata visit

The potholed NH6 stretch in Kharagpur on Sunday. Picture by Samir Mondal

Kharagpur, Dec. 29: The West Midnapore administration has decided to prod the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to carry out repairs on a war footing on a cratered stretch of NH6 that the chief minister will take to reach Jungle Mahal on January 6.

The 56km potholed road from Kharagpur to Chichra on the Bengal-Jharkhand border had come under Mamata Banerjee’s glare when she took the road in October. The chief minister had asked the district administration to take up the matter with the NHAI and ensure immediate repairs.

A private agency engaged by the NHAI to repair the stretch said it could complete the work by January, which district officials feared would be “too late”.

The district officials pointed the finger at the NHAI while the highway authority in turn blamed the private agency assigned the task.

The worry among the officials comes at a time the government has been focusing on completing as many projects as possible before the Lok Sabha polls in May and has been prodding district administrations for the purpose.

The government has also decided to build a 16,000km rural road network, including 1km “all-weather” roads in each of the 3,349 gram panchayat areas. The chief minister will launch the project in West Midnapore’s Amlasole and will have to take the 56km potholed stretch for the visit.

“This might make her all the more angry. The NHAI should hurry up and the complete the repairs before the visit,” a district official said.

According to the district officials, the NHAI, which intends to four-lane the 56km stretch early next year using government land, had initially said they would carry out repairs along with the widening. “But we prevailed upon them to at least start repairs as early as possible,” a district official said.

Sources said a few days after Mamata’s instruction to repair the stretch, district magistrate Ghulam Ali Ansari and senior PWD officials had held a meeting with NHAI officials on October 21. The NHAI was conveyed the chief minister’s orders and was asked to start repairs.

NHAI project director T.K. Baidya today said Simplex Infrastructure Limited, a private construction company, was entrusted with the job of carrying out the repairs in November. An amount of Rs 2 crore was sanctioned and the deadline was set at December.

“But we are not happy with the progress of the work. We have also written about our displeasure to the authorities concerned. I think the company cannot complete the work before January,” Baidya said.

The private company blamed the incessant rain for the delay in repairs. Abdul Hannan, the project manager of Simplex, added that “there were also some technical faults in the plan”.

Asked to specify, Hannan said the repairs were “almost complete” and claimed the company would finish the work by January.

Wary of earning the chief minister’s flak, district officials said they needed to complete the repairs before her visit “anyhow”.

“January would be too late. The condition of the road is appalling and would anger the chief minister. They have to work faster,” district magistrate Ansari said.

Ansari said he had asked the PWD officials in the district to keep prodding the NHAI to expedite the work.

“If the chief minister finds the road still cratered, it would be a great pity,” an official said. “The NHAI should have applied more pressure on the private company entrusted with the repairs. It’s not our fault.”