Stung by criticism over the number of potholes on roads in the state, especially Mumbai, Chhagan Bhujbal, who is in charge of the public works department (PWD), hit back on Thursday saying that the majority of roads in the state don’t fall under the purview of his department.
The Deputy Chief Minister also said the state’s poor budgeting is one of the main road repairs don’t get completed. Engineers with the PWD said the department has completed 37% of the repairs and that it could do no more as it had run out of money.
“The majority of roads in the state don’t come under PWD so to blame solely this department for potholes or road repairs is unfair,” he said.
Data with the PWD states that it is responsible only for 66,172 km of roads in the state, of the total road network of 2.37 lakh km.
The biggest chunk lies with the rural development department, while agencies such as the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the National Highways Authority also have fair shares.
Two of the agencies Bhujbal holds responsible for the roads — the MSRDC and the rural development department — are handled by leaders from his own party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). While Jaydutt Kshirsagar heads the MSRDC, Jayant Patil is in charge of the rural development department.
The NCP leader also criticised the state government for not budgeting sufficient funds for road repairs. “We asked for Rs 6,000 crore for road repairs this year, but we have got a budget of only Rs 1,600 crore. Similarly, last year, we had asked for Rs 5,800 crore and we got Rs 1,800 crore,” he said.
Last month, Home Minister RR Patil, also from the NCP, had said people should stop paying toll if potholes are not repaired, a statement that was endorsed by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan.
These statements had annoyed Bhujbal who, in an interview with HT, had responded by saying that Chavan and Patil need to focus on getting things right within their departments.
However, following this criticism, the PWD swung into action and has been actively monitoring road repairs. It has suspended toll collection by private contractors on certain portions of three arterial roads after the contractor failed to complete repairs on time, including a stretch of the Mumbai-Pune NH4.
It has also stopped its own toll collection — for building bridges over rivers — at 10 places, including Ulhas, Vaitarna and Painganga, saying that it has recovered the majority of the cost.