Mumbai: For the Chhattisgarh-based company, whose vehicles were torched by Naxals in Gadchiroli’s Kurkheda district while it was executing a road construction project last week, this was the first time the firm had taken up a contract, though very hesitantly, in a sensitive area.
Now, with over two dozen of the company’s vehicles gutted, and the site workers wary of going back to work, the construction firm is unsure of when it can resume work.
Officials from the state Public Works Department (PWD) said this is a challenge they face regularly in many sensitive areas of the district.
The attack by Naxals on 1 May was the third such incident at a work site in six months.
“God knows how the work will happen now,” said Surendra Rathi, a member of the core management team of Amar Infrastructure Limited, the company that was in charge of the road construction work.
“It depends on what kind of protection we get from the state government, how our labour supports us. As of now, work has stopped, our employees have returned and nobody is ready to go back there again,” he said.
Amar Infrastructure was given the sub-contract of the construction of Purada-Yerkad section of a state highway in Gadchiroli. Work was underway since late 2018 and the company had posted about hundred people at the site, Rathi said.
Tough to get contractors, says PWD official
In the past six months, besides the Kurkheda incident, there have been two other incidents of Naxals disrupting work by torching vehicles at the sites of projects under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, a senior PWD official said.
The site attacked last week is the part of the 50-kilometre Purada-Yerkad-Godalwai road reconstruction project, costing Rs 135 crore. This is one of the three projects being implemented by the state government on its ambitious hybrid annuity model in Gadchiroli.
“It is a very significant project in aiding the police’s efforts to counter Naxalism, and is probably the reason why it was targeted,” the PWD official said, adding that the project had to be tendered three times to get a contractor.
For several other projects too, finding contractors is difficult, the official said. For instance, of the 43 projects to be implemented in Gadchiroli under the ‘Road Requirement Plan’ in Left-wing extremism-affected areas, work on just 22 is underway. “The rest haven’t received much response,” the PWD official said.
While officials and contractors don’t receive any direct threats, there are times when they have to halt works as a precautionary measure.
“At times, we used to see pamphlets by Naxals, or a villager would say something, and we would stop work for four days, at times eight days,” Rathi said.
‘Most areas safe, Naxals don’t oppose all works’
Krushna Gajbe, a BJP legislator from Gadchiroli’s Armori Assembly constituency said, in most parts of the district, it is not as challenging to implement infrastructure projects.
“The area where the incident took place was a stable area. The work was going on properly till now. But Maoists wanted to spread fear after the Lok Sabha elections in which even sensitive areas of Gadchiroli voted in large numbers,” Gajbe said.
He added there is a lot of work going on in Gadchiroli such as small bridges, road repairs and others without a glitch.
The Gadchiroli-Chimur parliamentary constituency had the highest voter turnout this election in Maharashtra at 71.98 per cent.
“Yes, there are certain pockets like Aheri and Bhamragad where implementing infrastructure work becomes challenging and contractors have to work in coordination with the police, but this is not the case everywhere,” the MLA said.
Lalsu Nagoti, an Independent member of the Gadchiroli Zilla Parishad, said not just contractors, but even teachers and doctors refuse to come to areas where Naxals have an influence, but it is important to understand that they do not oppose every work.
“They raise their voice only if they think a project is going to threaten their existence. For example, they are strongly opposed to connectivity between different talukas. But, they don’t mind work being implemented within a village — drinking facilities for the villagers, schools, hospitals, roads from one house to another,” said Nagoti, from Gadchiroli’s Bhamragad taluka.
The Naxals are opposed to mega projects that can displace villagers such as big dams or mining works, and have burnt vehicles and equipment at mining sites in the past, Nagoti said.
“A dialogue with them about why a project is significant for the villagers helps. Until recently, they were opposed to electricity in several areas. They feared that television would invite outside influences, but we managed to convince them that we need electricity to run schools and hospitals. They are not opposed to it anymore,” he added.
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