| Smooth drive: A state highway in Bihar. Telegraph picture |
From an era when people used to look for streets in the maze of potholes to the one where even a small damaged stretch raises eyebrows, the road sector has witnessed a sea change during the seven-year rule of Nitish Kumar.
“The state had around 200km of two-lane roads when we came to power in November 2005. Today, it boasts of around 3,000km of two-lane roads. It’s a strong indicator as far as the turnaround in the road sector is concerned,” road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav said.
His claim does not appear to be an exaggeration. Apart from constructing and repairing several kilometres of national highways using Rs 969 crore of state funds, the government has mobilised finances for upgrading the state highways that were in a shambles seven years ago.
The government has notified new state highways and the total length of such roads has gone up from 2,109km to 4,857km in seven years.
The NDA rule has also witnessed construction of a large number of bridges across the main rivers. In 2005, there were 21 such bridges across the rivers. The Nitish Kumar government has so far added 16 bridges and work on 17 more is in various stages. Twelve more bridges are in the pipeline. If one adds the 3,500 small bridges, the figure becomes more impressive.
The road sector has also seen private investment of about Rs 5,000 crore during the period in comparison to Rs 800 crore in industry. People on the ground also praise the government when it comes to roads. “Though the Nitish government has failed to meet expectations of the people on many fronts, it has performed well as far as improving roads is concerned,” said Ran Vijay Kumar, a resident of Rohinia village in East Champaran.
Achievements, however, throw up bigger challenges and the NDA government is no exception to this. The challenge of maintaining the constructed roads is staring at the government’s face. “We are aware of the issue and very soon a holistic road maintenance policy would be put up for the cabinet’s approval,” minister Yadav said.
He admitted that there were certain areas from where reaching Patna in six hours by road was still not possible. “Kishanganj is one such district. We are planning to develop a new road that would connect this district with the East-West corridor. It will help the residents of Kishanganj to reach Patna in six hours.”
Another cause of concern is the poor condition of the national highways. The Muzaffarpur-Barauni stretch of NH-28 is a case in point. “Such roads are being constructed by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and we keep on reminding them about the problem,” Yadav said. “People think it is our fault, whereas we don’t have any role in construction of roads that have been handed over to the NHAI. Around 400km of national highways in Bihar are in urgent need of repair,” Yadav added.