Levy raj chokes projects

Maoist menace has taken a toll on development projects in Khaira block, inconveniencing villagers' dream of a smooth and direct journey to neighbouring Giridih district in Jharkhand.

On February 21, 2006, chief minister Nitish Kumar laid the foundation stone of a proposed Rs 6-crore road bridge across river Kiul at Badildih, which would have connected regions with the most inaccessible topography in Jamui and Nawada with Giridih.

Sahadev Soren, 56, of Ropawel, a non-descript hamlet under Khaira block around 210km southeast of Patna, dreamt of easy and fast travel to his relatives' house in neighbouring Giridih in Jharkhand with the construction of the proposed bridge.

Almost seven years have passed, but the bridge construction has been forced to halt by the Maoists and local criminals, who enjoy support of the Naxalites.

Bishnu Kumar, a resident of Gari Bazaar area, said: "We were happy when work started on the bridge on November 28 last year. But the recent abduction of eight labourers, allegedly by the rebels, has once again put the fate of the bridge hanging in the balance. Though the captives were released later, the fear is still there."

There are several examples in Jamui and neighbouring districts, where rebels forcefully block development projects.

"During the five-six months of monsoon every year, we cannot attend schools because of waterlogged surroundings. The bridge is crucial for us," said Ranjeet Kumar, a shiksha mitra in Ropawel village.

Anil Kishore Yadav, deputy inspector-general of police, Munger zone, admitted that the rebels' prime intention was to collect levy from construction companies and for that, they targeted companies.

Jamui superintendent of police Upendra Sharma said the police were ready to help the construction companies if they sought protection.

A senior police officer at Munger, preferring anonymity, claimed that the construction companies negotiate the levy with rebels without informing the police.

Contrary to the police's claims, the construction companies had a different version. "Any project can be completed only after levy is paid according to the rebels' demand," said a representative of a construction company.

"Earlier, four contractors had to face levy demand by rebels or goons for the construction of the road bridge. On June 26, 2009, three workers of the then contractor were abducted and only after the levy was paid, they were released after three days," said Ramdular Yadav, a resident of Khaira.

"If we complained to the police, the rebels would have punished us because the men-in-uniform could not give us round-the-clock protection," said a company worker, preferring anonymity. The company had to pay a huge levy amount after rebels abducted three workers and killed one in August 2012.

The construction companies working in the region prefer to pay up the levy instead of seeking police help. "We have to work in the most inaccessible parts of the region where even police dare go even in daylight. So how do we expect security cover from police and ignore the rebels?" said a worker of a construction company at Jamui.

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