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Infrastructure projects remain in a limbo

By Ron Duarah
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DIBRUGARH, Oct 9 � A long cherished dream of the people of Assam�s heartland is the widening of the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch of the National Highway to a four-lane expressway. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had promised construction of this expressway in 2001, but 13 years later, nothing has happened.

It is gathered from sources that the chief obstacles to wider, safer and better roads in Assam and her sister States in the North East are impractical credential requirements, and overkill in the name of environmental safeguards. Lately, the introduction of EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) mode in road contracts, too, have not found favour with the contractors for works in the North East, as the conditions are almost impossible to meet. What is happening is that those parties, who do qualify to place bids, are not interested to execute the allotted work.

This is one of the reasons for the unacceptable delay in the construction of the East-West Corridor, the four-lane expressway from Saurashtra to Silchar. The contractors, who got their work orders, do not do their work under one pretext or the other, and hence, nobody knows when the Lanka-Silchar segment of the East West corridor would be ready for traffic.

The introduction of the EPC mode of highway contracts by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has made life easy for the government babus, while contractors have to work from the design stage to the road commissioning stage. The MoRTH just supervises the engineering and construction activity, before accepting and paying the bills.

It so happens that under the strict EPC norms, only a few select contractors actually qualify to take part in the bidding process. Once they place their bids and get the work allocation offers, almost all these contractors look out for sub-contractors who will do the actual work. The sub-contractors are poorly paid, while the prime contractor makes a neat profit at the expense of the former. The government could have evolved a way to issue work orders to the actual working contractors, instead of the big bidders just because the latter have a bigger order book, suggested an engineer who has seen it all.

Several big ticket infrastructure projects in the North East have become non-starters because of the �EPC malaise�. These include several road projects in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, etc. Another major infrastructure project is the Rs 170-crore Dibrugarh main drain renovation work. The work order was issued (because of EPC) to a Spanish firm in December 2013. Ten months since, not a weed has been removed from the drain, while the European contractor continues to scout for a sub-contractor to execute the works �on a back to back� basis.

The faulty norms have ensured that in the past 20 years, not a single contractor in the North East have gained credentials to participate in tenders with values of Rs 200 crore or above. The Chief Ministers of the northeastern States have to seriously ponder over this, especially Tarun Gogoi, who is now in the final years of his third term.

In stark contrast, Chandrababu Naidu helped create a pool of contractors in Andhra Pradesh who meet norms to take part in high value tenders, like Rs 1,000 crore and above.

On this front at least, Assam is light years behind. May be it is still not the end of the road and a governmental re-think on norms is carried out both at Dispur and New Delhi for actual human resource and infrastructure development in India�s North East.

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Infrastructure projects remain in a limbo

DIBRUGARH, Oct 9 � A long cherished dream of the people of Assam�s heartland is the widening of the Nagaon-Dibrugarh stretch of the National Highway to a four-lane expressway. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had promised construction of this expressway in 2001, but 13 years later, nothing has happened.

It is gathered from sources that the chief obstacles to wider, safer and better roads in Assam and her sister States in the North East are impractical credential requirements, and overkill in the name of environmental safeguards. Lately, the introduction of EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) mode in road contracts, too, have not found favour with the contractors for works in the North East, as the conditions are almost impossible to meet. What is happening is that those parties, who do qualify to place bids, are not interested to execute the allotted work.

This is one of the reasons for the unacceptable delay in the construction of the East-West Corridor, the four-lane expressway from Saurashtra to Silchar. The contractors, who got their work orders, do not do their work under one pretext or the other, and hence, nobody knows when the Lanka-Silchar segment of the East West corridor would be ready for traffic.

The introduction of the EPC mode of highway contracts by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has made life easy for the government babus, while contractors have to work from the design stage to the road commissioning stage. The MoRTH just supervises the engineering and construction activity, before accepting and paying the bills.

It so happens that under the strict EPC norms, only a few select contractors actually qualify to take part in the bidding process. Once they place their bids and get the work allocation offers, almost all these contractors look out for sub-contractors who will do the actual work. The sub-contractors are poorly paid, while the prime contractor makes a neat profit at the expense of the former. The government could have evolved a way to issue work orders to the actual working contractors, instead of the big bidders just because the latter have a bigger order book, suggested an engineer who has seen it all.

Several big ticket infrastructure projects in the North East have become non-starters because of the �EPC malaise�. These include several road projects in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, etc. Another major infrastructure project is the Rs 170-crore Dibrugarh main drain renovation work. The work order was issued (because of EPC) to a Spanish firm in December 2013. Ten months since, not a weed has been removed from the drain, while the European contractor continues to scout for a sub-contractor to execute the works �on a back to back� basis.

The faulty norms have ensured that in the past 20 years, not a single contractor in the North East have gained credentials to participate in tenders with values of Rs 200 crore or above. The Chief Ministers of the northeastern States have to seriously ponder over this, especially Tarun Gogoi, who is now in the final years of his third term.

In stark contrast, Chandrababu Naidu helped create a pool of contractors in Andhra Pradesh who meet norms to take part in high value tenders, like Rs 1,000 crore and above.

On this front at least, Assam is light years behind. May be it is still not the end of the road and a governmental re-think on norms is carried out both at Dispur and New Delhi for actual human resource and infrastructure development in India�s North East.

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