Bhubaneswar, July 23: Top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda has been nabbed last week, but the north-south corridor that runs through 12 tribal-dominated districts of the state continues to face threat from the rebels.
The ultras want to stall the project at any cost. If the road comes up, it will facilitate movement of police and vehicles in the Maoist belt.
Panda is now in police custody and is being quizzed on his role in spreading Maoists activities in the state.
The crime branch today appealed to the court to allow it to interrogate Panda about his involvement on the Nayagarh armoury loot in 2007.
Besides the road, an important bridge over Gurupriya river that connects the cut-off area of Malkangiri district with the mainland has been hanging fire since 2002. Once the bridge is ready road connection can be made to Chhattisgarh and Seemandhra. Though the tender process was finalised for the bridge last week, there is doubt over the completion of the project.
After the Maoists have been pushed to the southern parts of the state because of the intensive combing operation in the central and south-central part of the state, they are targeting the north-south corridor, a highway that is a part of Vijayawada- Ranchi route connecting Motu in Malakangiri (on Andhra Pradesh border) to the Jharkhand border. Because of Maoist threat, work on the project has been stalled.
Security advisor to the Centre K. Vijay Kumar, who was supposed to arrive here today to tour Malkangiri and Koraput districts, postponed the trip because of bad weather.
The work of the road was taken up in 2007-08 for the socio-economic development of tribal areas. The route was also planned to provide an efficient road network to combat extremism in the bordering tribal districts of Odisha.
The major part of the road passes through Odisha. While 236 km passes through Andhra Pradesh, 1,219 km is in Odisha and 177 km in Jharkhand.
Odisha’s portion of roads consists of 239km of national highway, 979km of state highway and major district and village roads. To give the project a boost, the ministry of road transport and highways had sanctioned 10 projects worth of Rs 1,194.98 crore for development of 639.95 km. The project was to be completed by March 2014. But, because of Maoist threat only for 53.11 km of the stretch could be completed.
Out of the 10 projects, 304.80 km of road fell in the bordering districts of Koraput, Rayagada, Malkangiri and Gajapati, where Maoists have a powerful presence.
“But the road job was either abandoned by contractors or did not commence,” the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) stated in its latest report.
Till 2013, the overall achievement in developing the route was 50 per cent.
Sources in the works department said: “The work has been affected as contractors are not coming forward to execute them. In many cases, the Maoists also burnt down vehicles of the contractors and that forced them to leave the work mid-way.”
Despite repeated warnings, contractors did not execute the work as originally planned, government officials admit. This view has also been endorsed by the CAG in its report.
An official said they were putting their best effort to expedite the project by pushing anti-Maoist operations in the core area.
As a part of its strategy, the government is keen to build the Gurupriya bridge as it will become an important link between three states. It will also join the cut-off areas to the mainland. A tender of Rs 172 crore has been finalised to build the bridge.
Director-general of police Sanjeev Marik said: “Combing operation against the Maoists will continue. We are keeping a close watch on the movement of Maoists from other states.”