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Building rural roads hits hurdles

Despite sanctioning Rs 5908.15 cr  to build roads under PMGSY, the project is progressing at sil’s pace

GUWAHATI, April 11: It is not a typical case of problem of plenty but something more than that.
 Despite sanctioning Rs 5908.15 crore to build 7931 km of rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yoja (PMGSY) during the last two fiscals, the project has failed to progress at the desired pace due to myriad reasons. Interestingly, sanctioning of funds to build such lengthy rural roads under PMGSY by the Union Ministry of Rural Development during 2016-17 and 2017-18 came after a gap of few years.
Sources told The Sentinel that poor cost estimates, imposition of GST, price rise and scarcity of stone chips and new guidelines of the Union Ministry to build rural roads have come in the way of smooth execution of the PMGSY in Assam. The situation has come to such a pass that the State PWD had to conduct and re-conduct the tendering system to award the road construction contracts three to four times as contractors are not showing keen interest to bid for the project. Out of 2668 rural roads against which the Centre allocated funds (during 2016-17 & 2017-18), the PWD has been able to allot work order for 1163 roads till early February this year. The PWD is yet to allot work order for 1505 roads and planning for re-tendering with just more than a month left for the seasol rain to begin in the State.
 Utpal Medhi, secretary of Assam PWD Contractors’ Association, told this newspaper that even though there has been cost escalation in construction of rural roads due to various reasons, the Centre has made poor cost estimates of roads, making contractors to shy away from bidding for the roads. He said after rolling out of the GST regime last year contractors now have to pay 12 per cent GST instead of earlier 5 per cent VAT to the government against their contracts.
“Construction of roads mainly in Kamrup and its adjoining districts has been suffering badly due to hike in prices of stone chips and its scarcity. Contractors are uble to carry adequate quantum of stone due to hike in prices from the stone quarry at Killing in Ri-Bhoi district in Meghalaya,” Medhi said, adding that the new guideline of the Centre not to raise the level of rural roads by earth filling while constructing is not practical. In many areas villagers have opposed such guideline.
In Assam also out of 102 stone quarries, 54 are not operating, leading to scarcity of the material, besides hiking its price.
Sources said tardy pace of progress of execution of PMGSY in Assam has even woken up the Centre forcing it to rush a team of tiol Rural Roads Development Agency to the State to take stock of the situation. The NRRDA officials and experts have agreed in principle about poor cost estimates and assured to look for solutions to other issues.

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Ankur Kalita