If the completion of road projects is any indication of the success of government schemes to develop Maoist-influenced districts, then such schemes have been a grand failure in Chhattisgarh. Only two of 30 road projects planned under the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) eradication programme have been completed in the last three years. According to the July report of the Chattisgarh Public Works Department (PWD), a copy of which is with The Hindu , in the last three years only two of the 30 roads have been completed under the union Home Ministry’s LWE eradication programme. The situation has not changed over the last one year. Fifteen of the 30 projects approved in 2010 or earlier are stuck at various stages of receiving or awarding tenders. The execution of the remaining 13 projects has stopped, as in most cases the contractor has simply disappeared in the middle of the work, presumably after being threatened by the Maoists. In some cases, the PWD’s report has tried hard to sound optimistic — “work is possible,” it has said. The PWD has had to redo some of the tenders as only one bid had been put forth. “Besides, companies bid online for projects in Bastar seeing the Google map and then run away once they are challenged by the Maoists,” said a PWD officer working on LWE projects.

Sources in the Union Home Ministry say that in most cases, the contractors disappear after taking an advance and after being taken to the court they return the money but “only after a few years.”

“The contractors themselves burn their machineries in some cases or fund renegade Maoist groups to do that, after taking an advance. If an interest free work advance of 20 crore is returned after three years, without even a scratch on the road, imagine how much [money] the contractor is making by investing it in the market in the name of Maoists,” said a senior Home Ministry official.

A project that did not take off, according to Home Ministry sources is the 70- km-long Awapalli-Jagargunda road which has “not started” according to the July report even after the Pune-based construction company — Patil Construction and Infrastructure — took a hefty advance. While refusing to discuss the advance the company has received, an official of Patil Construction acknowledged that working in the stretch is a “seriously difficult” job.

“One of our employees was killed there in March and cars burnt down. We suffered financially. No contractor sabotages his own project,” said the general manager (HR) of Patil Construction, Col. Vivek Bhatnagar. The work has “just started” in that stretch, Col. Bhatnagar said. The question, however, is why central paramilitaries are not engaged substantially to complete the road projects.

“We have managed to complete one patch between Palnar and Sameli in Dantewada, which is a very difficult area, using CRPF, why the same cannot be done elsewhere?” asks a Home Ministry official. The PWD officials deny any “nexus” between the contractors, a section of the Maoists and the civilian administration that slows down LWE projects for “personal financial benefits.”

In the last six months, top officials of the State government, the police, and paramilitary forces met at least thrice in Kanker and Raipur to discuss the fate of the roads in south Chhattisgarh. In last week’s meeting, Chief Minister Raman Singh told PWD’s managers that the construction “has to be completed” especially as it is the best time of the year after monsoon to wrap up the ongoing projects. However, the Chief Minister has “not been pushy given the vulnerable security situation of the area,” said N. Baijendra Kumar, the principal secretary to chief minister. While acknowledging Mr. Singh’s concern, PWD officers told The Hindu that the job is nearly “impossible.”

“We got all the support from the forces but the question is if any number of forces is sufficient to protect men and machinery,” said a PWD official.

But LWE’s road projects of Chhattisgarh go on round the clock as the money, amounting to almost Rs. 2000 crore, is budgeted. And being budgeted, the money arrives every year during monsoon, partly gets spent as “advance” and the rest goes back to Delhi to come back again the following year only to get spent again as an advance. A few more meetings are convened hurriedly in central Raipur’s Circuit House, a few more reports are submitted and the cumulative length of the road remains more-or-less the same.

  • Only 2 of 30 roads planned have been completed

  • Contractors abandon work midway after threats