Minister pushes for better village roads

Ranchi, Jan. 25: Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who reached Ranchi today morning, has decided to take the bull by its horns in the state under President's Rule and quicken the pace of development, especially roads in the hinterland, including rebel-hit swathes.

Besides unfurling the Republic Day Tricolour in the officially "cleansed" Saranda to send rebels a strong message, Ramesh is also gunning for huge road and rural infrastructure projects under independent monitoring for construction quality.

"We can no more blame the Jharkhand government for the sorry state of affairs. Now, everything is under our direct command. We have to make honest efforts in whatever little time we have in hand," the Union minister reasoned.

To make his intention clear, Ramesh held a four-hour meeting at Project Building today with twin advisers to governor Syed Ahmed and senior bureaucrats. Before that he called on Ahmed at Raj Bhavan and discussed a wide range of issues for the state's positive growth.

During his meeting at project Building, Ramesh laid his plans for rural road and bridge network before advisers Madhukar Gupta and K. Vijay Kumar, chief secretary S.K. Choudhary, rural development secretary R.S. Poddar, special secretary (rural development department) Paritosh Upadhyaya, additional chief secretary (drinking water and sanitation department) Sudhir Prasad.

Briefing the media later, he said Jharkhand State Rural Roads Development Authority would ink an MoU with US-based URS Scott Wilson India Private Limited tomorrow as the project management consultant to monitor roads being laid under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).

For three years, the US agency will look into every aspect from project reports, estimates, training to field staff and contractors, to faster construction, he added.

The agency will be paid around Rs 13.5 crore for its services, but it is being seen as an investment for the Rs 1,400-crore PMGSY road projects adding up to 5,300km, the bulk of whose funds come from the Centre.

"We often receive complaints of poor quality work, which is why we have decided to engage a multinational project management consultant for three years," Ramesh said.

He added that construction major Ircon International Ltd would erect bridges and culverts in remote areas. Pointing out that roads without bridges led to huge gaps for pedestrians, Ramesh said Jharkhand needed to take up over 200 rural bridge projects.

However, when asked to comment on Ircon's less-than-satisfactory track record, Ramesh side-stepped the query. But, he admitted to pragmatic problems such as lack of response to road construction tenders in Maoist strongholds.

Ramesh rattled off other figures. "Seventy thousand Indira Awas Yojana houses have been approved for Jharkhand in the current fiscal. The state had received an equal number earlier. As part of the drinking water supply via solar-powered dual pumps under Integrated Action Plan across 1,900 villages, I am launching the scheme tomorrow in Saranda. It has proved successful in several Latehar villages," he added.

Ramesh, who reached Jamshedpur in the evening, will visit West Singhbhum tomorrow, covering Digha, Manoharpur and Chaibasa. He is slated to unfurl the Tricolour in Digha.

nRemark stirs JMM-Cong pot, Page 6

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