Monday, 30th October 2017

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CAA panic delays road projects

Workers return home to look for documents

By Snehamoy Chakraborty and Alamgir Hossain in Bolpur(Birbhum) and Behrampore
  • Published 30.12.19, 12:30 AM
  • Updated 30.12.19, 12:30 AM
  • 2 mins read
A machine spreads asphalt on the Suri-Sainthia road in Birbhum district Sourced by The Telegraph

Construction of several metalled roads across south Bengal will miss the December 31 deadline set by chief minister Mamata Banerjee as labourers have skipped the work and started search for documents to prove their citizenship.

Many workers have returned home because of alleged panic over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens.

“The projects might be delayed by around two weeks because many labourers stopped coming to work following the passage of the amended citizenship Act,” said a source in the public works department.

“They are mostly preoccupied with the collection of papers and many have also taken leave to go home and look for the same,” the source added.

A PWD official in Birbhum said there was panic among the workers from mid-December. “Murshidabad and Malda are the main districts that supply us with workers. After December 11, many of them started taking leave,” said the official.

“Most of them returned less than a week ago and many are still away without notice,” he added.

Wahab Ali, a labourer from Murshidabad’s Bhagabangola who works under a contractor in Hooghly, said: “I stopped going to work since December 11 as I was panicked after knowing about the Act (CAA). I am yet to join the work as I am busy trying to find old land-related documents.”

PWD officials said they were trying to expedite the works to reduce delays as much as possible. Earlier this year, Mamata had asked nodal agencies, including the PWD and zilla parishads, to finish road projects in south Bengal by December 31.

Officials in Birbhum said work on at least 50 district roads had been delayed by 10 days or more — beyond the planned date of December 31 — because of unavailability of workers at the last minute.

“Most of our labourers are from the minority community, so we understand their concern. We can’t blame them for their absence,” said Karim Khan, a Birbhum zilla parishad functionary who oversees public works.

“Road and railway delays have compounded their and our problems,” he added.

Widespread protests that had rocked Bengal after the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill had hampered road and railway traffic for days.

In Murshidabad, 196 under-construction roads were set to be completed by December 31. Officials said they had finished work on 50 roads and would complete the rest in two weeks.

“We are aware of the chief minister’s deadline, but she is sympathetic to people who are vulnerable to the CAA. So, she would surely grant us two more weeks,” said Rajib Hossain, a functionary of Murshidabad zilla parishad in charge of road and public works.

A handful of contractors, however, claimed that they had finished the work in time.

“Many of my colleagues faced the shortage of labourers. But I completed the primary work earlier where maximum labour was required. Now, we are doing the final work which is dependent on machines,” said Sarbyendu Sarkar, a contractor assigned to the Suri-Sainthia road.

PWD officials in Nadia and Hooghly said many labourers who were yet to return to the work were “in fear” of a nationwide NRC.

“We called up some workers to inquire about their return. They don’t want to leave their homes now because they are afraid of what will happen,” a PWD official in Nadia said.

Additional reporting by Subhasish Chaudhuri