With a major push to road networks, the vision of development of backward areas like LWE-hit Gadchiroli can become a reality
Inaugurating and laying foundation stones for road projects and bridges is a routine activity for politicians. However, when Union Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurated and laid foundation stones for various road projects in Gadchiroli district recently, it had a special significance.
Located in the eastern-most corner of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli has seen little development even after 73 years of Independence. Over 90 per cent of the district is a designated forest area and almost 40 per cent of the population is tribal. Inaccessible terrain and infrastructure deficiencies have hindered Government welfare programmes for the masses. Decades on, Naxalism has flourished because it touches the emotional chord of socio-political and economic wrongs. It’s ironical that in the name of revolution, Naxals are collecting money and blocking development and Government funds meant for tribal and rural development remain unspent or fall into the wrong hands.
The lack of connectivity within the State and with other States has turned Gadchiroli into a hotbed of Naxal activities. Along with it, the adjoining districts of Chandrapur, Gondia, Yavatmal, Bhandara and Nanded have also become prone to Naxalism. These districts are situated in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected belt, stretching across Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Gadchiroli is one of the least developed districts where people live amid extreme violence and abject poverty. Dense forests and large perennial rivers criss-crossing the district have posed a major challenge to connectivity. This, in turn, affects literacy, healthcare and mobility of the people. But things have begun to change now.
In the last six years, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has put development of road networks and enhancement of connectivity in Naxal, tribal and backward areas on the fast track. With the vision of connecting every district with National Highways (NHs) and special emphasis on Naxalism-hit areas, the MoRTH has launched a special programme for LWE affected districts.
In Maharashtra, a LWE scheme connectivity programme of 495 km length was announced with an investment of over Rs 920 crore. This programme comprises development of road networks and bridges on Pranhita, Indravati and Godavari, the major rivers of Gadchiroli. For the first time, the district is seeing infrastructure projects of high magnitude being taken up and completed within a span of five years. Till recently, the NH-63, with a total length of 56 km passing through Sironcha, was the only NH in the district. The network has since been enhanced to 647 km after declaration of four new NHs of 591 km length. In all, MoRTH has approved 44 road projects of 541 km with an outlay of Rs 1,740 crore for Gadchiroli district. The major infrastructure initiatives in Gadchiroli include a 855-metre major bridge across the Pranahita River on the Nizamabad-Jagdalpur Road (NH 63) at a cost of Rs 168 crore. Then there is the 630-metre, high-level bridge across the Indravati River near Patagudam on the Nizamabad-Jagdalpur Road (NH 63) at a cost of Rs 248 crore; a 30-metre bridge near Lankachen on the Bejurpalli-Aheri Road; the improvement of Bejurpalli-Aheri Road (SH 275) between Watra and Moyabinpeta and the improvement of the Garanji-Pustola Road.
These projects were inaugurated on September 6. The bridges across the Pranahita River at the Maharashtra-Telangana border and at Sironcha and the Indravati River at the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border near Patagudam ensure seamless inter-State connectivity to the neighbouring States. The NH-930 connects Gadchiroli to Chandrapur district and the work of improving 81 km of this road to two lanes with paved shoulder (2L+PS) standards is in progress at a cost of Rs 646 crore.
Improvement of the 39.76 km-long stretch of the Nagbhid-Armori section of the NH-353D has been completed at cost of Rs 269 crore. This road now connects Gadchiroli district with the city of Nagpur. The NH-353C, connecting Sakoli, Wadsa, Gadchiroli, Chamorshi, Alapalli and Sironcha, links the remotest part of Gadchiroli district with the old NH-6 and in turn provides connectivity with the rest of the country. The Gadchiroli-Asthi section of this road is being improved to 2L+PS standards at a cost of Rs 577 crore. Strengthening other sections of this road has also been taken up. The tribal areas of Alapalli, Hemalkasa, Bhamragarh are now connected through NH-130D. Improvement of this road section has been taken up. Construction of major bridges across Perimelli, Bandia and Paralkota, too, has been taken up at cost of Rs 194 crore. The Wainganga river, which divides Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts, is one of the important rivers in Maharashtra. Due to the current narrow, low-level bridge, commuters face many difficulties, especially during the monsoon season. To eliminate the hardships of the people, a new 825- metre bridge will be constructed at a cost of Rs 99 crore near Asthi.
Four new major bridges on the Perimilli, Bandiya, Pearikota and Waingagana Rivers and 14 minor bridges will ensure seamless transportation in otherwise inaccessible areas of Gadchiroli. This remarkable progress of infrastructure development is not a small achievement. We must compliment the engineers and contractors who are working hard despite the constant fear of Naxal attacks. In fact, the bridge across River Indravati was completed under very trying and war-like conditions. A police station had to be set up in order to help construct the bridge. It was an excellent manifestation of commitment, political desire and coordination between various Government agencies and the security forces.
With a major push to infrastructure, the vision of development of backward areas like LWE-hit Gadchiroli can become a reality. With an abundance of natural resources like bamboo in the district, Gadchiroli can become a hub for sticks used by incense manufacturers as the import of agarbattis has been banned. More than 100 such units can be set up, which would give employment to the local people. With these initiatives, job creation in Gadchiroli will get a fillip as the Government has a target of providing employment to more than 10,000 youth within the next five years. This would be a fitting tribute of an aspirational district to the concept of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
(The writer is Advisor, NHAI, under MoRTH, New Delhi)