The Union Rural Development Ministry has asked the Centre to declare upper Assam districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh as Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters in Guwahati that as per intelligence, there is evidence about the presence of Maoist activities in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh and he has suggested the Prime Minister after his visit to declare the two as LWE affected districts.

“The Prime Minister has reacted positively. And we are now expecting the Planning Commission to make a formal announcement very soon. Special Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGYS) norms would be extended to Tinsukia and Dibrigarh,” Mr. Ramesh said.

“These areas are very remote. They require infrastructure, roads and bridges particularly,” he added. Both the districts, lying in the easternmost zone of Assam, have witnessed increasing activity by cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in recent months.

Many such alleged cadres have been arrested and four killed at Sadiya subdivision in Tinsukia in June.

Mr. Ramesh said, “Currently 82 districts across various states have been declared as LWE affected districts. Each district gets a special grant of Rs 30 crore for building critical infrastructure gaps. And my suggestion to the Planning Commission and the Finance Minister has been to include Tinsukia and Dibrugarh in this list.”

Among the worst affected areas has been the Sadiya subdivision where “there are disturbing reports about presence of Maoist cadres,” he said.

The Union Minister said many private contractors in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts have refrained from giving detailed information regarding expenditures made for PMGSY roads in the public boards due to extortion threats.

‘One of the best performing states’

“Assam is achieving a lot in human development outcome... I compliment Assam on its significant outcomes (in human development). Unfortunately, Assam gets into headlines for wrong reasons. The media does not project Assam’s achievement in human development,” Mr. Ramesh said.

In economic growth, Assam is among the top 4-5 states and is one of the success stories of NRHM, he said.

“Assam has the lowest inequality rate in the country. It is among the top 3-4 states in growth of literacy, where its performance is even better than that of Gujarat”, Mr. Ramesh said.

“There are currently two lakh women self-help groups in Assam. In next five years, the target is to increase the numbers to five lakh”, he said.

“In terms of gender indices, Assam’s performance is much better than states in North India or Gujarat,” Mr. Ramesh said.

PMGSY norms relaxed

The Centre has decided to relax norms for Assam so that it can get benefits at par with tribal areas and hill states for constructing rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the Rural Development Minister told reporters in Guwahati.

This will benefit over 3,000 habitations and entail construction of an additional 2,500 kms of roads in Assam.

Lauding the performance of the PMGSY programme in Assam, Ramesh said 13,000 kms of rural roads have been constructed in the state during past 11 years at an expenditure of Rs 7,100 crore. The project is fully funded by the Centre.

Mr. Ramesh said in response to a request from the Assam government, the Centre has permitted three more technical agencies — Guwahati Engineering College, Jorhat Engineering College and NIT Silchar — to review infrastructure projects.

Till now only one institution — IIT Guwahati, was in the list.

The central government has also given in-principal approval for setting up of an academy for training engineers and technicians in construction, on the lines of National Academy of Construction Hyderabad.

“We have given in-principal approval. This will be a regional centre for Management Construction Technology,” Mr. Ramesh said.

He said Assam has proposed setting up an Equipment Bank for leasing out construction equipment to engineers and contractors. “Once we (centre) receive the formal proposal we will take it forward,” Mr. Ramesh said.

The Centre will also consider a proposal for central funding of bridges of over 50 metres length under PMGSY. He stressed on improving technology to accelerate road construction in places like Assam where the working period is less than six months a year due to floods and landslides.

The union minister added that he would raise the matter of reconstruction of roads under the PMGSY which are damaged due to reasons like floods. He also supported Assam government’s proposal for 150 days of work every year for labourers under MNREGA, in line with notified drought-hit states.

“Assam has asked for the same benefit as it is a flood-affected area. This is a reasonable proposal,” Mr. Ramesh said.