ASSAM | Better Road connectivity: A distant dream

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The organizations protested against the Charaideu district PWD authorities for their alleged negligence in repairing the roads of various regions of the districts. The busy road has become dilapidated, causing a lot of inconvenience to people.

Besides, the organizations also demanded immediate construction of other rural roads before the monsoon season. Over the last three years, the Narendra Modi government has been giving maximum attention to improve road conditions in northeastern India. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) announced plans to pump to build roads and to shift from the controversial BOT model to turnkey contracts on encumbrance-free land to pace up construction.

Take for example the case of the all-important NH-37 and NH-52 crisscrossing Assam through either bank of Brahmaputra. Both the highways have been taken up for four-laning. According to the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), as on September 30, four-laning of all three sections from Jamuguri to Holongi on NH-52 on the north bank is running way behind schedule.

Except for one section (between Bishwanath Chariali and Gohpur) that achieved 43 percent physical progress, the rest barely saw any movement.

Engineering and Construction Company (ECI), which was awarded the contract for the Gohpur-Holongi section in December 2015, has completed just 7 percent of work.

The Assam state highway-46 that passes through Goalpara district is currently in bad shape even after carrying out of a repair work worth Rs 5 crore recently. The road has come under tremendous pressure as an RCC bridge sustained cracks two years back at Krishnai on NH-37.     

Cancellation of contracts

The 440-km NH-37 connecting Guwahati with the tea capital of Dibrugarh is the lifeline of trade and commerce in Assam. With the opening of the Dhola-Sadia bridge and Bogibeel bridge due for opening in January, the widening of this road is of utmost importance.

Out of the total, 122 km has already been developed under the East-West Corridor project, which was conceived by the Vajpayee government and taken up by NHAI in 2012. The 130-km stretch from Nagaon to Numaligarh passes through Kaziranga National park and cannot be widened.

This leaves a little less than 200 km to be widened, and construction is on since 2014 but without much progress. NHIDCL recently canceled the old BOT contracts (two) to Corsan Corvium for the 82-km-long Jorhat to Demow section.

HCC achieved 8 percent progress on the 40-km Jorhar-Numaligarh section and has been asked to pay damages. Gannon Dunkerley achieved 5 percent progress on the 27-km Demow-Moran section – the projects were scheduled for completion between November 2017 and May 2018.

 “We may cancel some more contracts to pace up work on NH-37 widening,” an NHIDCL source told.

Financially stressed

Meanwhile, sources in the Ministry pointed out that most of the contractors who failed to show necessary progress are financially stressed due to their high exposure to BOT projects. Sources in lending agencies and in the construction equipment sector have also confirmed this view.

Stressed finances are, however, not the only reason. While the policy-makers in Assam are geared up to provide necessary land to speed up highway construction, executing agencies point out that the urgency is yet to make much impact on the officialdom, especially the lower-level officials. “Often we are handed overland with encroachments,” said a source. The development of highways in Assam is essential for connectivity to other N-E States.

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