The Himachal government would shortly take a final call on the Rs 228-crore project to widen the 81-km road connecting Theog to Hatkoti, which was allocated to a Chinese firm Longian Road and Bridge Company. The government reviewed the project on Tuesday.
"We will shortly take appropriate decision on the road project," chief secretary Sudripta Roy told Hindustan Times after presiding over the meeting convened to review the progress in work on the road stretch. Apart from representatives of the Chinese firm, officials of public works department were also present.
With elections round the corner and harvesting of apple gaining pace, pressure has been mounting on the state government to speed up the road construction. Both the opposition Congress and ruling BJP have often blamed each other for bad roads.
The government asked the Chinese firm to explain their position, after consultant's report revealed that the foreign company had completed only 2% of the work as compared to 40% expected of it by now. The company was awarded the contract for the road-widening project on February 22, 2008.
During the meeting, representatives of the Chinese company rather blamed local leaders for spreading canards and creating law and order problem for the project. "The Chinese engineers complained that a few locals were upset with road conditions and threatened them," said a PWD official.
PWD has already served notices on the company regarding the project. Though the construction of two roads was allotted to the Chinese company in June 2008, owing to strict visa restrictions imposed by the ministry of external affairs, a majority of Chinese workforce had to leave abruptly.
Ever since, work on the project has suffered and the firm has not been able to expedite matters despite assurances that the company would complete the project as per the extended deadline.
The deal for the project was struck with the World Bank by the then Congress government headed by Virbhadra Singh before the assembly elections in 2007. The project was slated for completion in 2011.
However, after the change of guard in Himachal in December 2007, the BJP government allotted the contract to the Chinese firm in February 2008. Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal even laid the foundation stone of the project on November 15, 2008 in Huli. The construction company later sought an extension in deadline to complete the road by June 20, 2013.
The road is a lifeline for major apple-growing areas of the state. The road holds political significance as well since it connects four assembly segments of Theog, Chopal, Jubbal-Kotkhai and Rohru. Accidents and frequent breakdowns of vehicles have been a common sight on this stretch that cut across one of the most affluent apple belts of the state. Apple growers have been facing huge financial losses due to bad road conditions since prospective buyers are reluctant to travel on the road between Theog and Rohru.
With apple-harvesting gaining pace, growers now fear that the road conditions could worsen due to more rains in the coming days. "The road is in very bad shape. No work is being done as company people have fled and the PWD is least concerned. Bad roads will have a repercussion on the area's economy," said Ravinder Chauhan, president of the Himachal apple growers association.
It is pertinent to mention that in 2010, apple-growers had suffered huge losses since they were forced to pay three times the normal fare to transport their produce to markets due to bad road conditions.
Also, patients requiring emergency treatment too have to bear the brunt of bad road. In many cases, patients have died even before reaching Shimla as poor road conditions double the time required to reach the state capital.