GUWAHATI: The four-lane work of the 380-km Nagaon-Dibrugarh National Highway is still to be complete even after eight years. On the contrary, the work of the Byrnihat-Borapani stretch of the National Highway in Meghalaya was completed before schedule. It is not all. The public has to bear the brunt in Assam for improper maintenance of the service roads in the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch of the national highway. Who is at fault – the district administrations, the construction companies, NHAI (National Highway Authority of India), NHIDCL (National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd) or the Ministry of Road Transport?
One of the reasons for the delay of the work is the laid-back attitude of the national construction companies. Abysmal delay on the part of the construction companies often makes the NHIDCL foreclose the contracts, needing fresh tendering for the allotment of works. It is time taking.
Neither NHAI nor NHIDCL supervised the works of the construction companies the way they should have, right from the beginning. Many construction companies from outside the state got the work orders only to sublet them to some other inexperienced companies. Monitoring works from the Union Ministry of Road Transport was also not up to the mark. It was despite repeated pleas to the Union Ministry from the successive Assam chief ministers in the past seven years. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also took up the matter with Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari to speed up the works recently.
During the initial period, the district administrations took much time to hand over lands. And a section of contractors took that advantage, adopted a laid-back attitude and slowly paddled the work. The work is abysmally slow in the Jorhat-Janji stretch of the national highway where the third construction company is at work after the foreclosure of the deals with two earlier construction companies. In the Janji-Demow stretch also, the third construction company is at work now. In two other stretches – Demow-Moran and Moran-Bogibeel – second construction companies are at work.
An allegation doing rounds is that the national-level construction companies working on national highways send their B or C teams of skilled workers to Assam. It affects the quality of work.
Work orders mention that the onus of proper upkeep of the service roads during the construction period lies with the construction companies. The NHIDCL should ensure the maintenance of the service roads by the construction companies. But both contractors and NHIDCL failed to perform this job properly. The outcome is the present plight of the service roads in several parts of the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch of the national highway.
NHIDCL's the then MD Anand Kumar said in October 2015, "We have 21 road and bridge projects on national highways 37, 37 (A), 38, 52, 52 (A) and 53 in Assam. And we will complete all these projects by March 2020."
However, the projects are far from over. The NHIDCL has set a target of December 2023 now.
A senior official of Guwahati-based NHIDCL said, "There is no doubt about the delay. Many factors are responsible for it."
Justifying the before-schedule completion of the Byrnihat-Borapani stretch of the national highway, the official said, "The Byrnihat-Borapani stretch has only a few human-inhabited areas, and the rest are hills. The handing over of lands was not a problem there. However, the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch passes through several towns and urban areas where handing over lands is a real hurdle. Demolition of houses and utility services on the acquired lands also took much time. Negligence on the part of the construction companies also added to the problem. A section of companies got the work orders for being the lowest bidders but failed to complete the works. It led us to foreclose the deals with several construction companies. However, the Union Ministry and NHIDCL have been working in a mission mood for the past three months. NHIDCL technical directors inspected the progress of works thrice in the past two months. They asked all contractors to speed up the works, besides proper upkeep of the service roads. In most of the stretches, repair works of the service roads are going on in full swing."