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CM rage, not land, for highway agency
‘Repair or return roads’

Gangarampur (South Dinajpur), Aug. 12: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today blamed the Centre for “failing to repair” national highways in Bengal and said the roads should be handed over to the state if the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) couldn’t mend them.

NHAI officials said the state’s reluctance to hand over land for widening highways was coming in the way of repairs.

At a government programme in Gangarampur this afternoon, Mamata said: “Before the (Lok Sabha) elections, we were told that good days are ahead, but our national highways have not been repaired. I have been harping on this for the past three years, but to no effect.”

She said the condition of national highways in Nadia, Murshidabad and Malda were the worst.

“We have been telling the Centre for the past three years to repair these arterial highways but it has not yet done so. If the Centre cannot do it, it should hand over the highways to us,” Mamata said.

PWD engineers in Bengal said taking over potholed highways and repairing them would not be easy. “The NHAI handed over charge of maintaining a 16km NH34 stretch between Calcutta airport and Dak Bungalow More in Barasat to the state government in 2012. The stretch could not be repaired immediately as the state failed to get funds from Delhi,” an engineer said.

The chief minister made the comments a day after an eight-hour journey by road from Calcutta to Raiganj during which she drove down a potholed 22km stretch of NH34 between Kaliachak and Malda. The widening of NH34, which connects Calcutta with Dalkhola in North Dinajpur, and NH31D, which links Siliguri to the Assam border, has been delayed because of problem over land acquisition.

A minister said the Malda-Kaliachak stretch of NH34 was in a “terrible condition”.

“The chief minister’s convoy crossed the stretch at a speed of 10-20kmph yesterday, negotiating potholes. She was furious about the state of the highway,” the minister said.

NHAI officials said 835 hectares was required for the four-laning of the two-lane NH34, a project that was started in 2009-2010. The officials said much of the work could not be completed as the state failed to give the land.

“Wherever the highway could not be widened because of the state’s inability to give land, like the stretches between Calcutta airport and Krishnagar and Kaliachak and Malda town and some portions in North Dinajpur, the road is in bad shape,” an official said.

The NHAI officials said contractors, who had hired costly machines to widen the road, were facing financial problems because of the delay in acquiring land. The government has handed over land for some stretches now, but work cannot begin as the contractors have returned the machines.