At least four construction majors are mulling exit from the troubled North Cachar Hills segment of the East-West Corridor project. This follows the Assam government’s “failure” in checking extortion, kidnappings and killings of highway workers by militants.
Representatives of Gammon India, Valecha Engineering, TBL and the Taiwan-based Continental Engineering Corporation met the Assam additional chief secretary Parul Devi Das on Thursday. Subsequently, they threatened to quit the project worth over Rs 800 crore.
Conceived during the NDA regime, the East-West and North-South Corridors had hit several road bumps allegedly owing to Union minister TR Baalu’s whims. In the case of the 150 km stretch from Lumding to Maibong in NC Hills, the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) outfit has been the spoilsport.
Barely 2 per cent of the work on this stretch has been completed since the National Highways Authority of India allocated it to several construction firms in March 2007. While a few like Punj Llyod exited early, the others stayed on hoping the situation would improve.
The firms stopped work eight months after taking up the NC Hills stretch, it is near the eastern end of the Porbandar-Silchar highway project, citing security reasons. Assurances from the State government were “not convincing enough” for them to return.
“It’s impossible to carry on in the NC Hills even if NHAI insists. We are seriously considering pulling out,” said Hsiung Chiang of Continental. “The insurgent groups controlling the area ask for money we cannot pay. They then resort to either kidnapping, killing or threatening to kill contractor’s personnel,” said Gammon’s SY Warty.
According to Valecha Engineering director Dinesh Valecha, a series of events in the last couple of years showed conditions in NC Hills were not conducive for work.
“On two occasions, engineers and other staff of Gammon were shot dead. Our staff were kidnapped and held for 46 days. And on March 3 this year, militants attacked the security forces stationed at our camp site at Langting. After one hour of gun fire, our security personnel had to be rescued by the Army.”
Like the highway project, the Northeast Frontier Railway’s gauge conversion work in the Lumding-Badarpur has also been suspended after contractors pulled out last year following frequent attacks.