Nainital, January 15
In large parts of Kumaon, the slogan is, “Road nahin to vote nahin” (no roads, no votes). Roads, or rather the absence of them, have emerged as one of the key issues in the small hill state, pushing Chief Minister Major General (retired) Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri on the back foot and putting roadblocks on BJP’s prospects in the election.
Khanduri is credited with implementing former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s vision of the Golden Quadrilateral connecting the farthest corners of the country. The BJP may well be paying a price for easing out Khanduri months after he became Chief Minister in 2007. He was brought back as CM barely four months ago and Khanduri did try to repair roads on a war-footing. But the damage was done. It was too little and too late, admit BJP workers.
The Nishank-led government claimed to have built 13,504 km of roads between 2007 and 2011. It also claimed to have constructed 371 bridges and spent nearly Rs 5,000 crore. But the claims fly in the face of popular agitations and spontaneous road blocks by the people.
Other figures released by the government also expose its shortcomings. In the first six months of this financial year, the government admits to have built just 3 km of road under a special scheme for Scheduled Tribes and spent about 15 per cent of the budget amount. There are unmistakable whiffs of corruption.
Under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the target for the current financial year was construction of 650 km of road, but only 202 km were built till September 2011, state official figures. The BJP government has been putting the blame on delays in the transfer of forest land. One government handout after another, in hindsight, made the mistake of urging PWD officials to take it up with the Forest Department on a ‘priority’ basis. Voters are now asking BJP candidates why the two departments of the same government failed to function and coordinate with each other and what kind of ‘priority’ the state government had given to road construction.
The Bhawali-Almora road, which was devastated in a rain-related disaster in September 2010, and affected connectivity in Almora, Bageshwar and Pithoragarh for a year. Even now, the conditions are only marginally better. The Haldwani-Nainital road, which witnesses heavy tourist traffic and is used by dignitaries and foreigners, was also damaged around the same time and met with a similar fate. Roads in the interior continue to remain in even poorer shape.
The Congress is trying to cash in by pointing out that many of the roads were sanctioned by the Congress government (2002-07). But many of these roads still remain on paper.
There is palpable anger among villagers, who complain bitterly that road connectivity has remained unchanged since the year 2000 when Uttarakhand came into being. At least some of the candidates this time are going to pay for the lapse, it would seem.