The West Bengal government has a state-level budget of 3962 crores for state highways, and district and other roads. Why can it not repair a 4 km stretch in four years then?
The West Bengal panchayat (village council) elections are due to be held later this year. Like all parties and all manifestos, the state government has made its promises ranging from the distribution of cows to the construction of rural roads. Although the government claims that the distribution of cows has nothing to do with the elections, the promise of rural roads, 13,000 kilometers long, is supposed to see the light of day before the elections, which will probably be held in April-May.
The state, however, has been pulled up by the centre for performing poorly in providing rural connectivity. Community Correspondent Bikash Murmu’s report on the poor condition of rural roads in East Burdwan only corroborate this claim.
The four kilometer long road connecting at least five villages in the district has been lying broken for four years now. The residents of the area have approached the concerned authorities at the district level but to no avail.
“They used some small boulders to try repairing it once,” says Raju Ghosh, a resident of Kurkupa, one of the villages along the stretch. He adds that accidents on the barely-there road are common.
Gangadhar Suttradhar drives an auto rickshaw on the route, often ferrying patients to nearby healthcare centres. “The patients often shout in pain and ask me to drive slowly, but then they won’t get to the destination in time”, he says.
Bikash says that there is a Primary Health Centre in the village, along the broken road, but it stays open only for 2-3 hours a day and is poorly staffed. So, patients have to go to the nearest hospital which is 24 kilometers away because a detour has to be taken. When Bikash first took the issue up with the concerned official in September 2017, he was assured that repair work would start by December 2017. But when no action as taken, he visited the official again in February 2018 and this time, the official told him that the matter was being handed over to the Public Works Department. The process has been slow, says Bikash, who now wants to show his video to the official and to the village community.
According to the online records of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (rural roads scheme), Burdwan has seen no new road connections in the last two years, only upgradation of existing roads connecting 274 habitations. (Burdwan was divided into East Burdwan and West Burdwan in April 2017 but the website records the data for both districts together as of now.) In Galsi-II, the block Bikash reported the story from, there have been three upgradations in 2017-2018 and five in 2016-2017. However, none of the habitations in and around Kurkupa have been touched.
East Burdwan, or what was formerly Burdwan, is not the only district in West Bengal to suffer from road woes. Community Correspondents in other parts of the state have reported on equally grave rural connectivity problems.
Also watch: Road Woes Leave Village Residents Stranded
Far from its promise of constructing new roads measuring 13,000 kilometers, the state government has failed to even repair enough existing ones. Bengal has only met only 65% of its 2017-18 target under the rural roads scheme. The reasons given by concerned officials are land availability, forest clearance and law and order. A recent study also found that corruption in the allocation of road contracts could be the reason many figures exist only on paper. The study reported that caste plays an important role in the allocation of contracts.
The reasons for the lapse in East Burdwan are not clear. But what is clear is that a large section of the population, already living in a place with little access to basic amenities, is being deprived of basic connectivity while promises are made by the score as every election approaches.
To ensure that the residents of the area have proper connectivity, join Bikash and the community in pressuring the local administration into re-building the road. Call the Public Works & Transport Officer of East Burdwan, Bagbul Islam, at +91-9475853510 and apprise him of the problem.
Video by Community Correspondent Bikash Murmu
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team