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New lease of life

After decades of little progress, the Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra is finally being targeted by determined efforts to setup the needed infrastructure to kickstart development

New lease of life
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Inaugurating and laying foundation stones for road projects and bridges is a routine activity of political leadership. However, when Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari inaugurated and laid foundation stones for various road projects in Gadchiroli district last Sunday, the event had a special significance.

Located in the easternmost corner of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli has seen little development even after 73 years of independence. Over 90 per cent of the district is designated forest area and almost 40 per cent of the population is tribal. Inaccessible terrain and infrastructure deficiencies have hindered government welfare programmes reaching the masses. Decades on, Naxalism has flourished because it touches the emotional chord of socio-political and economic wrongs. It is ironic that in the name of revolution, Naxals are collecting money and blocking development and the government funds meant for tribal and rural development remain unspent or fall into the wrong hands.

Lack of connectivity within the State and with other states has turned Gadchiroli a hotbed of Naxal activities in Maharashtra. Along with it, the adjoining districts of Chandrapur, Gondia, Yavatmal, Bhandara and Nanded have also become Naxal prone. 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 in Maharashtra where the poorest live amidst extreme violence and abject poverty. Dense forests and large perennial rivers crisscrossing the district have posed the worst challenge of connectivity affecting literacy, health care and general mobility of people. But things have begun to change.

In the last six years, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has put the development of road network and enhancement of connectivity in Naxal, tribal and backward areas on the fast track. With a vision of connecting every district with national Highways and special emphasis on Naxal affected districts, MoRTH has launched a special program for LWE affected districts.

In Maharashtra alone, the LWE scheme connectivity programme of 495 km length was announced with an investment of more than Rs 920 crore. This program comprises the development of road network and bridges on Pranhita, Indravati and Godavari, the major rivers of Gadchiroli district. For the first time, Gadchiroli 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 National Highway in the district. The NH network has since been enhanced to 647 km after the declaration of four new National Highways of 591 km stretch. In all, MoRTH has approved 44 road projects of 541 km length with an outlay of Rs 1,740 crores for Gadchiroli district.

The major infrastructure initiatives in Gadchiroli include:

855-metre major bridge across Pranahita river on Nizamabad – Jagdalpur Road (NH 63) at a cost of Rs 168 crores. 630-metre high-level bridge across the Indravati River near Patagudam on Nizamabad – Jagdalpur Road (NH 63) at a cost of Rs 248 crores. 30-metre high-level bridge near Lankachen on Bejurpalli – Aheri Road. Improvement of Bejurpalli-Aheri Road (SH 275) between Watra and Moyabinpeta. Improvement of Garanji – Pustola Road. These projects were inaugurated on Sunday.

The bridges across the Pranahita river at Maharashtra-Telangana border at Sironcha and the Indravati river at Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border near Patagudam ensure seamless inter-state connectivity to the neighbouring states of Telangana and Chhattisgarh.

NH-930 connects Gadchiroli to Chandrapur district. Work of improvement of 81 km length of this road to Two Lane with Paved Shoulders (2L+PS) standards is in progress at a cost of Rs 646 cr.

Improvement of Nagbhid–Armori section of NH-353D of length 39.76 km has been completed at cost of Rs 269 cr. This road now connects Gadchiroli district with the city of Nagpur.

NH-353C connecting Sakoli, Wadsa, Gadchiroli, Chamorshi, Alapalli and Sironcha connects the remotest part of Gadchiroli district with old NH-6 and in turn provides connectivity with the rest of the country. Gadchiroli – Asthi section of this road is being improved to 2L+PS standards at a cost of Rs 577 crore. Strengthening of 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 has been taken up at a cost of Rs 194 crore.

Wainganga river, which divides Gadchiroli and Chandrapur Districts is one of the important rivers in the State of Maharashtra. Due to the current condition of the narrow, low-level bridge, commuters face many difficulties, especially during the monsoon season. To eliminate 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 Perimilli, Bandiya, Pearikota and Wainganga River and 14 minor bridges will ensure seamless transportation in otherwise inaccessible areas of Gadchiroli districts.

This remarkable progress of infrastructure development underway in Gadchiroli district is not a small achievement. We must compliment the engineers and contractors who are working hard in the constant environment of fear of Naxal attacks. In fact, the bridge across River Indravati was completed under very trying and warlike 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 security forces.

With a major push to infrastructure development, the vision for the development of backward areas can become a reality. With an abundance of natural resources like bamboo in the district, Gadchiroli can become the hub of bamboo sticks for Agarbatti manufacturing, whose import has now been stopped. More than 100 such units can be set up, which would give employment to local people. With these initiatives, job creation in Gadchiroli is very much possible with 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 Atma Nirbhar Bharat propounded by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

The writer is an Advisor, NHAI under the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal

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