SILCHAR: UPA Government'sobsession with caste and communal politics is making a mockery of ?Look East Policy? and creation of ?Special Economic Zone? for north-east. former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee'sdream project East-West corridor, connecting Silchar with Saurashtra, for rapid connectivity to boost up socio-economic development of the region from all reckoning, is biting dust. The extra ordinary gazette notification of the Central Government for the acquisition of land for Silchar- Shri Rampur stretch of the super highway in Asom was issued on August 11, 2003.
The acquisition of land by the revenue officials, who measure land and negotiate the prices, is mired in corrupt practices. Allegations against the officials? demanding 36 per cent commission from land-losers have been galore. Many of the persons whose lands have been acquired have said that unless commissions are paid, their claims are kept in abeyance.
Karnendu Bhattacharjee MP(RS) of Silchar peeved at the questionable method of work lambasted the deputy collector for his failure to provide satisfactory answer to the reason why the land owners have not been paid money and said, ?We think the disbursement is being marred by a larger financial scandal.?
Serious allegations have also been leveled against the officials concerned in South Assam for changing the original blue-print of the four-lane corridor in order to benefit hundreds of residential houses an shops with the sole objective of sharing handsome chunk of negotiating price. According to an inside source, the Delhi based H.S.S. Integrated Private Limited after detailed survey of the land for Highway submitted its report to the National Highway for acquisition. On receiving green-signal from the administration, the NHAI was to start work.
Another glaring example of sabotaging the dream project is the arbitrary manner of taking over 16,000 bighas of land of a tea-estate without observing necessary official formality. This forced the tea-estate management of Haticherra near Silchar to file PIL in Guwahati High Court. This litigation has further complicated the land acquisition in Assam and has put a big question mark on the fate of the East-west Corridor.
On being pressed by Karnendu Bhattacharjee about the progress of work, the district administration of Cachar clarified that of the 54 kms of land to be acquired in south Assam, 25 kms of land has been till date 13 kms of land has been handed over to the NHAI.
A.K. Srivastava, Deputy General Manager of Punj Lyyod Ltd., contracted to construct the South Assam stretch of the highway, said, ?not even a single kilometer of this land is free from encumbrance.?
Vijay Singh, Chairman of the NHAI, who came to Guwahati in October, to review the E-W corridor, admitted ?how the highway is caught in the cobweb of land acquisition? but expressed the hope ?it will be completed by the end of 2008?.
About three fourths of the Rs 4670 crore and 3300 kms of Silchar?Saurashtra highway that stand completed today were built under NDA. UPA is busy talking big only. In fact, the corridor is crawling without any seriousness on the ground. Little distance has been covered and no action plan outlined to get NHWI back on track.
Apart from all the official wrangling over land acquisition, uncooperative state machinery, inter departmental bickering and lack of positive attitude among the officials and contractors have created the logjam. Minister of Highways, T.R. Baalu, speaks of action but without any punch and drive. In contrast his counterpart B.C. Khanduri of NDA had 12-hour non-stop meeting to sort out issues. The Task Force under him monitored the development across the states, crisscrossed by the highways. That level of involvement is missing.
Prabhat Chaturvedi, member administration, NHAI, jolted by the inordinate delay, is now contemplating to constitute a dedicated cell of retired revenue officials to expedite land acquisition by reducing reliance on states. But with all the mess being created and piled up at the very ground level on the vital factor of land acquisition, it will be very difficult to break the nexus among the unscrupulous officials and politicians for whom monetary gains for self are more important than regional and national interests. Additional Chief Secretary of Asom C.K.Das, nodal officer appointed by the state government for the project, can hardly set things right two months after Vijay Singh's missive to bring speed and direction in the construction of the corridor.
The corridor logjam has its echo on the very first day of the winter-session of Asom Assembly when members expressed their serious concern at the slipshod construction work. Grin Kumar Barua of AGP who raised the issue said the 4-land highway was ready between one end of the city of Guwahati to another end, covering a distance of 20 kms only, during NDA. After that, he said, it has been a tale of ?road-blocks and potholes?, on the corridor across the state. The proposed major bridges over river Brahmaputra near Saraighat and Barak near Silchar are yet to start.
Walking up as if it were from slumber, Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister, informed the members of the House that a committee has been constituted headed by the Chief Secretary S.K.Kaliban to resolve the various tangles. If the E-W corridor is extended to Dibrugarh as stated by the Chief Minister, it can be linked with the vintage Stilwell Road for easy access to Mynmar, China and Bangladesh that will open new vista of economic development for north east.
(The author can be contacted at Satsang Ashram Road, Silchar, Assam-788 007 e-mail: [email protected])