Monday, November 29, 1999

Nitish pushes for road funds as polls near

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The political battle for the Bihar Assembly elections has literally been taken to the streets or in this case, roads. Work on more than 20,000 km of roads, projected to cost Rs 13,000 crore under the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), has ground to a halt in the state for lack of central funds. With the model code of conduct, which prohibits such expenditure before any election, expected to kick in within a couple of months, postal lines between Patna and Krishi Bhawan have been furiously busy.Chief secretary of the state Anup Mukherjee has said in a letter to the rural development ministry, "We have payment liabilities of nearly Rs 1,000 crore payable to contractors. Work has stopped in many districts. This will also affect the quality of roads. We are also being compelled to default on our contractual responsibility to pay contractors on time and they are demanding compensation." His urgency lies in the fact that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar needs the funds urgently as part of his development report card to see him through the forthcoming polls.The state has accused the ministry of rural development, headed by CP Joshi from the Congress, of releasing funds only in small instalments, that too after long gaps. "This results in spurt in construction, followed by periods of inactivity," the letter states.Sources in the state government say rolling stock on cash is running low and it seems unlikely that many of the state's ambitious road construction programmes will be complete before election season hits in earnest.The rural development ministry has taken the plea that there are technical problems with the projects that have been sanctioned and these queries need to be satisfied before any funds are released. "Many of the roads fall outside of the 'core network' of habitations which are eligible under the PMGSY scheme.The state government is hoping for the Rs 1,000 crore to tide it over till July. Bihar has had notoriously bad roads under the previous chef minister from RJD, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar's strategy has been to increase government spending on roads and bridges to a conspicuous level. Speaking to FE, minister of state for rural development, Pradeep Jain however said the Centre "is not partisan in its attitude, there are some issues with the core network concept in Bihar which need to be ironed out."

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