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NHAI projects in Naxal areas: Challenges are endless for contractors

Creating infrastructure to break the naxal strongholds and bring development to these remote areas is perhaps even tougher than executing an encounter

Megha Manchanda  |  New Delhi 

Photo: ANI
Photo: ANI

The Maharashtra killing of 15 specially trained policemen in a Naxal attack earlier this week may have become a "normal" occurrence for some in the left wing extremist areas, but there are some unsung heroes who have to keep the journey going.

Creating infrastructure to break the naxal strongholds and bring development to these remote areas is perhaps even tougher than executing an encounter. Each time construction workers or managers are abducted or their vehicle and equipment is blown up, the highwaylength has to be walked all over again.

The total length of roads awarded in LWE areas across the country isjust 5416 km but these contracts are the toughest because privateinvestors want to keep away from these hot spots.

Challenges are endless for a contractor who has to manoeuver his way to execute a project in these areas.

“This area in Maharashtra is tough because it requires a lot of coordination between the executing agencies and the states where the project has been conceptualized,” said a senior official at the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

NHAI is not directly handling a lot of projects in the Naxal infested areas. There are state PWDs and other agencies that do these works. The risks are factored in before the detailed project planning stage or the detailed project report in technical parlance.

“We have the ability to take risks and losses when the instance of asset burning at the sites take place but we hope that the insurance premium for such projects is raised so that the manpower and physical assets if damaged are duly compensated,” NHAI Chairman N N Sinha told Business Standard.

The minefield attack at Gadchiroli in Maharashtra followed Naxals torching 25 vehicles belonging to a road construction contractor earlier in the day NHAI is not implementing any highway contract there.

Such attacks are not new for the construction agencies but the coordination and help from the security forces enables a smoother execution.

According to former road secretary Vijay Chhibber, the state governments are better equipped to handle these projects.

“Earlier even the Border Road Organsition (BRO) was engaged for construction of roads in these areas but even they didn’t get the kind of success, state governments did,” Chhibber said.

An official, who did not wish to be quoted, said state government officials are able to open informal channels with Maoists through local contractors and that is the reason the project gets executed within the timelines.

The LWE areas or the Red Corridor comprises parts of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. There is a Left Wing Extremism Division under the Home Ministry that looks at capacity building of these states, deployment of Central Armed Police Forces, providing assistance to state governments for initiatives to combat left wing extremism besides other things.

In the last five years, only one question has been asked in Lok Sabha about the situation of road and bridge infrastructure in the LWE regions.

On December 6, 2016, Member of Parliament Bodhsingh Bhagat enquired about the construction of bridges in the LWE affected areas.

The proposal for as many as 10 bridges was listed by the Minister of State (Home Ministry) Hansraj Ahir to be submitted to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. There was no approval for the construction of those bridges at that time.

According to the latest official data, the total length of roads sanctioned under Road Requirement Plan for development of roads in Left Wing Extremism affected areas in 34 districts is 5422 km.

The total length awarded and constructed till March 2017 is 5419 km and 4486 km respectively. The total expenditure incurred since the inception under the scheme till March 2017 is Rs 6210 crore.

On December 28, 2016, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a Centrally Sponsored Scheme -- Road Connectivity Project for Left Wing Extremism (LWE) Affected Areas-- to improve the rural road connectivity in the worst LWE affected districts from the security perspective.

The scheme includes construction/upgradation of 5,411.81 km road and 126 bridges works at an estimated cost of Rs 11,724.53 crore.

The fund sharing pattern of LWE road project is the same as that of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) i.e. in the ratio of 60:40 between the Centre and States.

First Published: Mon, May 06 2019. 11:57 IST