Recently when Cachar’s Deputy Commissioner Harendra Kumar Dev Mohanta ‘instructed‘ the PWD officials to repair Silchar’s roads before the Durga Puja next month, the people of the town reacted to his statement with great amusement and sarcasm. An aging, frail rickshaw puller summed it up wonderfully and said, “Aaiz obdi to Durga Thakureo kichchu korta parsoin na, eibar dekha jauk kita hoi” (Even Goddess Durga could not make much of a difference (to the town’s roads) all these years, let us see what happens this time).
Indeed, the story of Silchar’s roads has been like a tragedy with no ending at all. An entire generation has now grown up in the town which has not seen decent roads and drainage systems. The district administration and the political machinery drowned neck deep in corruption have completely failed to live up to the aspirations of the people of this ever growing urban centre.
Huge amounts have been sanctioned for road repairs over the years and senior government officials have made innumerable inspections, but the results on the ground have been the same. The entire system has become so corrupt that these sanctions are purely seen as opportunities to make money and more money. There is no end to such greed and therefore, unless, urgent reform measures are undertaken, the woes of the people will not end.
The people of the town saw a ray of hope in 2007-08, when the then Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Santosh Mohan Dev lobbied hard in New Delhi to get Rs. 63 Crores sanctioned from the Central Road Fund (CRF) for various roads of the town and other parts of Cachar. However, allegedly the state government played truant and the money was blocked by Dispur. The internal squabbles between Dev and Barak Valley heavyweight Dinesh Prasad Goala further added to the deadlock.
The frustration and dissatisfaction among the people reached its peak and was reflected in various agitations and protests that shook the town. Thousands of people came out on the streets almost voluntarily on June 29th, 2010 and participated in a mass procession, which reminded many old timers of the ‘bhasha andolan’ of 1961. Many more such protests followed, which even forced the then Silchar MLA Bithika Dev to comment that even God would not be able to ensure Congress’ win in the next assembly elections.
The public mood was so angry and agitated that the administration was forced to come out of its slumber. Moreover, the assembly polls were round the corner in 2011 and some work at least had to be done to soothe the nerves of the voters. A portion of the CRF amount was cleared by the state government and repair works of many arterial roads of the town such as Shyama Prasad Road in Shillongpatty, Jail Road, College Road, Link Road, Radhamadhab Road, connecting roads to Itkhola and Malugram, Vivekananda Road etc were commenced almost simultaneously in late 2010. The two national highway town connections from Tarapur to Sadarghat and from Capital Travels point to Holy Cross School were also repaired in quick time.
|A view of the damaged Shyamaprasad Road at Shillongpatty|
However, hardly six months down the line, the condition of the town’s roads are deplorable again. These newly laid roads have failed to stand the rigours of this year’s monsoon, which has been pretty ordinary for a high rainfall area like Barak Valley. Some roads like the Shyamaprasad Road, which was laid only earlier this year, is so badly damaged that there is no trace of any metalled road anymore.
Therefore, the familiar promises of the leaders and government officials are audible again. Now our deputy commissioner has promised repairs before Durga Puja, then he will promise the repairs during the winters and then next monsoon, he will again promise road repairs after the end of the monsoons. This vicious cycle of false promises will continue forever and corrupt people will continue to loot us unless radical measures are initiated.
What is absolutely incomprehensible is that, when the roads get damaged so quickly, why the accountability is not fixed on the contractor or the engineer in charge? Why the same contractors are allowed to file tenders for future projects despite their dubious records? Why the district PWD machinery shows no interest in repairing the roads when the initial cracks appear? For example, the recently repaired national highway connectors between Tarapur and Sadarghat and from Capital Travels point to Holy Cross School are now showing initial signs of wear and tear with cracks appearing at some points, but there is no effort on the part of the PWD, National Highways Division to repair them. If these small stretches are attended to immediately, the life of these roads can be increased by many years.
|Church Road, which was also repaired a few months back|
All these questions indicate towards only one intention. The leaders, the government machinery, the contractors all look at Silchar’s roads as opportunities to make easy money. There has been an identical trend that has continued for years now. First, there will be agitation against bad roads, then the public representatives of the state and centre will approach various senior leaders for ‘urgent attention’, huge funds will be sanctioned and then the money will be amicably shared among all these ‘stakeholders’. Then another round of the same exercise will follow. Predictably, Silchar MLA Susmita Dev and Assam’s Sports Minister Ajit Singh recently met Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and apprised him about the horrendous road condition in the town. Apparently, some 14 crores have again been sanctioned from the CRF to repair the town’s roads. By now, don’t we all know the eventual outcome of this exercise?
The local contractors, on their part, allege that their payments are never cleared on time. Moreover, they have to bribe each and every official involved in Guwahati and Silchar as well as the public representatives to bag the contracts and then get the payments which leave very little amount for the actual work to be carried out. Obviously, the state government does not initiate reforms to clear this mess because the unscrupulous benefactors would then lose out on a lot of perks.
Many senior government officials including ministers have also visited the town and the valley as a whole to ‘inspect’ and ‘take stock’ of the ground situation. First, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Assam PWD Vivekananda Doley was rushed to Barak Valley when Katigorah MLA Ataur Rehman Mazharbhuiya sat on a hunger strike demanding the quick repair of National Highway 44 in July, 2010. Then the Additional Chief Secretary, Surajit Mitra visited Silchar to prepare a report on the valley’s roads.
Last June, PWD minister Ajanta Neog made a surprise visit to the town and inspected many roads. She even suspended the then Executive Engineer of Silchar PWD’s Rural Roads, Imran Hussain Choudhury and couple others for tardy work. While initially, the suspension was seen as a punishment for poor performance, later media reports revealed that Choudhury was an appointee of a former minister from the valley who had lost favour with Tarun Gogoi this time. Therefore, the people in charge of the new dispensation wanted to put their own men in charge. Public good was certainly not the objective.
PWD Commissioner Mohan Chandra Bodo is now touring Barak Valley, apparently at the insistence of Gogoi, to assess the road condition of the valley. Nothing much will come out of this exercise either like the others before. Meanwhile, we the common man can only hope for some divine intervention for things to change in this God forsaken corner of the country!