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Budget to focus on connectivity: Himanta


GUWAHATI, March 5 - The time has come for the Public Works Department (PWD) to focus more on quality of projects rather than quantity or number of schemes, and political interference in the department�s work should be avoided, said PWD Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in the Legislative Assembly today.

Replying to the debate on voting on supplementary demand for grants for roads and bridges, Sarma said the State Budget, which will be presented in the Assembly tomorrow, will focus on boosting connectivity and on expanding and upgrading the Assam�s road network, among other sectors and projects.

He said the State government�s public expenditure has witnessed a huge surge since 2016-17 and during this period the road sector has been the biggest beneficiary of the expansion of the fiscal space. �It is time for the PWD to move from quantity to quality,� Sarma said.

The minister said Assam was able to construct 930 km of roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) during 2016-17, which went up to 1,619 km in 2017-18, and 4,300 km in 2018-19. This year, so far, 2,588 km of PMGSY roads have been constructed and the government is looking at achieving a target of 4,000 km by end of the fiscal.

The Central government allotted work on 1,732 km of roads under the second phase of PMGSY to Assam last year and the target is expected to be achieved by March-end. Sarma said once the target under PMGSY phase II is achieved the Central government is likely to allot work on 4,325 km of rural roads to Assam under phase III of the scheme by May this year.

He, however, admitted that all the districts are not performing equally and some, like Karbi Anglong, Dhubri, Barpeta and Barak valley districts, have yet to complete work on roads sanctioned under phase I of PMGSY.

Sarma rued the fact that many politicians have a tendency to try and intervene in the work of the PWD and said that any kind of political interference will prove counterproductive for the department. He said legislators should frame rules and regulations and oversee projects rather than trying to intervene too much while projects related to roads and bridges are being implemented.

The minister said the government is looking to promote a new class of good quality contractors from among the local youths and the immediate plan is to have 500 such contractors. They will be selected from among civil engineering graduates and the government will provide them contracts at a subsidised rate and also try to arrange for cheap loans for such youngsters.

He said PWD will try to create a course for young professional contractors. �The more local youths we get, the better,� he added.

Sarma said over Rs 5,000 crore was sanctioned for road projects under (SOPD) State Owned Priority Development and PMGSY combined this year. Under SOPD, 15 km of road was constructed in Assam in 2016-17, which went up to 148 km in 2017-18, 236 km in 2018-19 and 3,000 km in the current fiscal Sarma added that the budget for PWD is likely to go up to Rs 5,000 crore within next two years.

The minister also stressed on standardisation of estimates for road construction projects, which currently vary from district to district. �Per kilometre cost should be standardised. There is also need for third party verification of estimates and quality of work undertaken,� he said.

The minister said 5,000 km of roads will be completed under the Asom Mala scheme during the next financial year with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank. Sarma said 10 km good quality road, with reflectors, lights, tree plantation and bus shelter, will be constructed in each of the 126 constituencies of Assam in the next fiscal.

He added that the guidelines regarding submission of photos of completed road projects by contractors and engineers will be changed. Photos showing empty roads will not be entertained and they will have to be shot with local people in the background so that citizens can give a verdict regarding whether they are satisfied with the particular project or not.

The minister said that work on the flyover at Ganeshguri here will be completed by Durga Puja this year, while the flyover at Super Market will be ready for use by Durga Puja in 2021.

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