In a new formula to build key infrastructure projects in areas worst affected by Naxal activities, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has asked gram panchayats to take over rural road construction projects under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).
Flooded with complaints that contractors are being chased away by Naxals, who are opposed to pucca roads, Ramesh announced at a rally here that panchayats would be allowed to make their own PMGSY roads where states fail to get contractors.
Malkangiri, situated at the southern tip of Odisha and surrounded by Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh from two sides, has completed just 35% of its rural roads till now. On May 4, Maoists killed a road contractor — Subala Sil (50) — apparently for undertaking repair work on canal embankments and village roads in the backward region of Malkangiri.
Ramesh’s tour assumes significance as he is the first UPA minister, according to local administrators, to come to Malkangiri on an official visit. It was here that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed a public rally a day before she was shot dead in 1984.
Envisaging a larger role for grassroot-level institutions, Ramesh revealed that after the Malkangiri polls, the union home ministry had asked him to stop funds to gram panchayats that won unopposed (in other words, got elected through Naxal-threats). “But I refused and said that I will give money to all elected panchayats. All of them are our partners in progress,” he said.
In what can be seen as a bid to further bypass the state governments in capacity building at Naxal-affected areas, the minister advocated that central agencies should intervene in trijunction areas. “12 years ago, CM Naveen Patnaik laid the foundation stone of Gurupriya bridge. Till date, it’s incomplete. We can fire Agni missiles from Balasore, but can’t build a kilometre-long bridge,” he said.