Note ban delays military projects

Slow progress:  Work on at Zojila Pass last April. After demonetisation, such projects have lost pace.

Slow progress: Work on at Zojila Pass last April. After demonetisation, such projects have lost pace.

Demonetisation has had an adverse effect on defence infrastructure projects, say field reports from the military commands.

Various engineering agencies — the Border Roads Organisation, the Military Engineer Services and the Corps of Engineers — are involved in executing several dozen important military projects across the country mostly using private contractors.

The projects are crucial for military capabilities, especially those closer to the borders. The contractors employ daily wage labourers, mainly migrants from the hinterland.

“As of now, we have only field reports. By early April, the figures would be in and we would know how badly it has impacted the infrastructure projects,” a senior officer said.

From runways and roads to office complexes and accommodations, all the projects have dramatically slowed down since the November 8 announcement, multiple sources have told The Hindu .

“We are now slowly picking up the pace. It is hoped that by April, things should be normal,” a senior official said.

“Because of demonetisation, work progress has been hit and delays of four to six months have accrued. But most of it cannot be made up,” Major General S. Kaushik, former Director-General, Works, said.

Migrant workers hit

Thousands of migrant labourers, especially from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha are the undocumented workforce that helps the military execute much of the infrastructure projects. As note ban sucked out currency from the system, military contractors began to fault in daily wage payments of these labourers.

“There is no banking infrastructure in the last mile. For some weeks, our contractors provided ration support to the labourers,” another officer said. “Local labourers could manage. However, the migrants just disappeared as cash ran out,” he said.

Sources in the Kolkata-headquartered Eastern Army Command, the Udhampur-based Northern Army Command, and the Border Roads Organisation said thousands of such temporary migrant workers suddenly disappeared. “Many of the projects just stopped,” an officer said.

Another officer serving in a forward area observed that the problem is especially acute on the eastern side with China where massive projects are under way as India is belatedly trying to catch up with its neighbour.

One officer dealing with Married Accommodation Project (MAP), meant to address the shortage of quarters for military personnel, said its Phase 2 was already in a bad shape when demonetisation hit.

MAP project

Under MAP Phase 2, the plan is to build two lakh houses for married personnel near their places of posting.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said last year that the project would be completed on a priority basis in view of the hardship faced by personnel. “I don’t think we would meet any of the targets,” the officer said.

The MAP was announced by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001 under which about two lakh dwelling units were to be constructed for the three services in three phases.

However, in recent weeks, most of the migrant workers who had left have begun to return, say officers. According to contractors’ estimates normalcy would be fully restored only by April, the officers said.

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Printable version | May 19, 2022 3:34:46 pm |