Whoever said Lalu Prasad wasn’t interested in infrastructural development? Apparently, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo has now become so keen on ensuring seamless road connectivity that he wanted the foundation stone-laying ceremony of a bridge to be conducted for a second time on Sunday, just so his name figured on the list of eminent people gracing the occasion.
It was only in August last year that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had laid the foundation stone for the proposed Bidupur-Kachchidargah six-lane bridge over the Ganga, located a few kilometers east of Patna. However, now that the event will be conducted again, the RJD leader’s detractors allege that he is being treated as a ‘super chief minister’ even though he holds no official position in the government.
The RJD, which has 80 MLAs in the 178-member ‘grand alliance’ legislature party, is the largest single component of the ruling alliances. Besides this, two of Prasad’s sons are ministers in the state government, and one is its deputy chief minister.
The 10-kilometre-long bridge, to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 5,000 crore, is of particular interest to Prasad because it falls in Raghopur, the assembly constituency of deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav.
However, the RJD chief’s political considerations with regard to the bridge construction failed to impress the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “In what capacity does Lalu’s name figure in a government advertisement?” asked BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. “He has been convicted in a corruption case. Also, he is neither an MP nor an MLA. He does not even hold a constitutional post!”
Modi said that the government had violated state norms by not inviting the local MP – Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan – who represents the Hajipur constituency in the Lok Sabha. His allegation found resonance among government officials.
The opposition also trained its guns on the government from a more official angle – it accused chief minister Nitish Kumar of laying the foundation even though the tender for the project was not finalised.
Kumar had laid the foundation stone last year, just five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a whopping `1.25-lakh crore development package for the poll-bound state.
“Kumar tried to fool the people. The work should have started immediately after the foundation was laid,” said Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi.
However, Tejashwi Yadav – also the state’s road construction minister – defended Sunday’s function by saying that it was organised to mark the actual launch of work on the bridge. “Now the tender has been decided, and the work will start very soon,” he said.
That, however, did not address the issue of finances. Modi wanted to know how the state government planned to raise Rs 2,000 crore, its share of the contribution to the `5,000-crore project.
“The state government has taken a loan of Rs 3,000 crore from the Asian Development Bank. The remaining amount of Rs 2,000 is to be contributed by the state. This is two-year-old estimate, and the cost is bound to escalate,” said Modi.
“When the Centre is ready to construct the bridge, why is the state government taking the headache?” he asked.
Government officials admitted that mobilising funds for the bridge construction was going to be a major problem for the state. “Already the state requires nearly Rs 4,000 crore per year of extra money to pay the teacher salaries announced before the elections,” an official said on the condition of anonymity.
The early 90s had witnessed a similar tug-of-war between Paswan and Prasad over the construction of the Digha-Sonepur rail-cum-road bridge. Though Paswan wanted it to pass through Hajipur, his constituency, Prasad prevailed upon then prime minister HD Deve Gowda on December 22, 1996, to have it benefit his Saran Lok Sabha seat.