Mumbai: Two days after a letter by Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari accusing Shiv Sena leaders of obstructing national highway projects in Maharashtra was leaked, the party’s leaders have denied all allegations.
Last month, in a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Gadkari referred to at least four road stretches in the state where work had been stalled, allegedly by local Shiv Sena leaders.
He particularly cited the Yavatmal-Washim constituency in the letter, which was leaked in the public domain Saturday.
While the state home department has called for an urgent inquiry into the matter, Shiv Sena leaders from the areas mentioned in the letter denied all allegations.
The leaders said the projects were stalled because of issues such as litigation and land acquisition and not because of them. Furthermore, any protests held at the sites mentioned were because of inferior quality of work, they added.
Shiv Sena MP Bhavana Gawli, who represents Yavatmal-Washim, said, “Nowhere have Shiv Sena leaders or functionaries ever stopped work. There may have been complaints to Nitin Gadkariji with a political agenda, but 90-95 per cent of the national highway work has been completed in the district (Washim), and the only work left is that which falls under the forest department and at places where land acquisition has not been done.”
Thackeray, who is also president of the Shiv Sena, has not formally commented on the letter. However, a Mumbai-based senior functionary of the Shiv Sena said he had sought information on the matter.
“Uddhav saheb is taking information on the matter, but prima facie, there is no evidence of any local Shiv Sena leader having threatened contractors or exerted pressure. Leaders have locally protested only over inferior quality of work,” the functionary, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
‘A collapsed bridge, road accidents and potholes’
In his two-page letter to Thackeray, Gadkari said Shiv Sena leaders were obstructing work on projects of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) by “using threats and making irrational demands”.
“If Sena leaders and elected representatives continue with such behaviour, it would be difficult to carry out the projects. People in the region will also be upset if projects are not completed,” Gadkari had written.
The minister mentioned four road projects that had allegedly been disrupted by Shiv Sena leaders — the Akola to Nanded highway, Medshi-Washim package 2 highway, Malegaon-Risod highway, and repair of Pulgaon-Karanja-Mehkar-Sindkhed highway.
He also accused Sena workers of burning construction machinery in Yavatmal-Washim.
However, a Shiv Sena functionary from Vidarbha said work on the Malegaon-Risod highway had stopped only because some farmers on a certain stretch had been protesting against not getting compensation. “The case is in court and the work on the road has stopped since the summer,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gawli noted that party workers staged a protest on the four-lane Akola-Nanded highway at Saikheda in the Washim district when “a newly-built bridge collapsed”.
“Shiv Sainiks removed the debris at night and pointed out the inferior quality work and the mistakes of the contractor to national highway officials,” she said
“On the same highway, on the stretch of Mangrulpir-Pinjar, the work was of such an inferior quality that the contractor had put staples on the road to hide the cracks in it,” she added.
On the Pulgaon-Karanja-Mehkar-Sindkhed stretch, local residents allegedly staged protests at several places in the Risod taluka as there were a high number of road accidents. Local Shiv Sena leaders said they backed these protests and brought complaints to the notice of the officials concerned.
Vidarbha-based Shiv Sena leader Kishor Tiwari said Gadkari’s letter to the CM was made public only to defame the Shiv Sena.
“During the 2014-2019 term of the BJP government, Gadkari had given a letter to PM Narendra Modi with a list of BJP’s public representatives who had been making demands for extortion to road contractors, but did not made that letter public,” he told ThePrint.
(Edited by Rachel John)