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No end to tale of fund crunch: Assam Road repair

Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, July 16: Road infrastructure continues to paint a grim picture of development of the State. The condition of each and every road in the State is pathetic – so much so that almost everyday people take to the streets in one corner of the State or the other, demanding repair of roads.
What has led the situation come to such a pass? An instant reply is that lack of road repair in the past two years has led the road condition to be so.

The new State PWD Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that the PWD needs Rs 5,000 crore if it has to repair all roads of the State. Given the fiscal health of Assam, the State cannot afford to sanction such a big amount to the department for repair of roads.

But then while tabling his first Budget as the Finance Minister on July 26, 2016, Sarma was on record saying: “The Finance Department is committed to allocate Rs 2,000 crore for incoming three years for maintenance of roads.” He also said that no such huge allocation of funds had been made for maintenance of roads in the recent past. He did assure the House of releasing the funds in three consecutive years – Rs 600 crore in the first year, Rs 800 crore in the second year and Rs 600 crore in the third year.”
But then, there were no visible road repair works in the past two years. Was the Budget promise on funds for road repair not kept, or the former PWD minister failed to make proper use of the funds, if released?
The situation has come to such a pass now that people have a harrowing time while travelling on the roads in the State. Instances of Goalpara State Highway-46, Jamunamukh-Doboka Road, Hojai-Nilbagan Road, Mangaldai-Bhutiachang Road, Nellie-Umkunchi Road, Jorhat-Dibrugarh NH-37, among others, can be drawn to show the plight of roads.

A length of 24,000 km of the around 45,000 km PWD roads in the State is blacktopped and the rest is either gravel topped or earthen. This is apart from the 4,000 km national highways snaking through the State. While the NHAI and the NHIDCL are there for the maintenance of national highways, it is the PWD that has to maintain the State highways.

A retired top official of the PWD threw much light on the issue, when he said: “For years the State government has not been laying stress on road repair the way it should have been. The department doesn’t even get the allocated 50 per cent of the amount it demands in the annual Budget for the maintenance of roads. Assam being flood-prone, its roads that come under water, as often as not, are damaged. The worst is that the PWD divisions are not left with adequate funds for immediate road repair. They can’t even go for minor repairs which, in course of time, become big craters leading to the necessity of huge amount to get them fixed. The new government did allocate Rs 2,000 crore for road repair in the Budget. I think either the fund was not released on time or the department has gone for faulty planning.”

In October 2016, the PWD did take a decision to prepare a data for Road Assets Management System (RAMS). However, the work for that is going slow.
The new PWD Minister says that this being the rainy season, repair of roads now is not going to be much effective. With the minister assuring the people of the State that road repair work is going to start after the monsoon and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal taking up the issue of road repair seriously, one can just hope against hope that Assam would be having motorable roads after the rainy season.

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