The 40km drive from Muzaffarpur to Mehsi is smooth,if one compares it to trips on most other Bihar roads. But the highway surface,though freshly laid,has already started to wear off at places,while the edges are still waiting for the upgrade they were supposed to get.
The 40km,four-lane stretch is one extreme of a 520km Lucknow-Muzaffarpur project,itself a part of NH-28. The project,funded by the World Bank with $620m,is one of three along with the Grand Trunk Road Improvement Project and the Third National Highway Project,both completed that have come under the World Banks scanner for fraudulent and corrupt practices by contractors,as reported in The Indian Express on Tuesday.
The deadline for the Lucknow-Muzaffarpur project is June 2012,while that for the Rs-320-crore Muzaffarpur-Mehsi stretch was October 2008,three years after work began. That was missed by nearly three more years. And even in September 2011,the stretch had only reached what the NHAI calls substantial completion.
What that means is clear when one looks at the edges and the surface. Shoulder dressing is yet to be done on either side. The absence of shoulder dressing makes roads prone to cracking,especially during the rains.
Pitching is incomplete at several places,especially on the Muzaffarpur-Mehsi up lanes. The stretch is just six months old but patches have come off on either side at the 36km point from Muzaffarpur (484km from Lucknow). Though the up lanes are bituminous and the down lane PCC here,the patches have roughened,coincidentally,at the same spot.
The road is 25 feet wide on either side with an extra side road in some areas. The Mehsi-Muzaffarpur lanes have been laid in PCC for 23km and in bitumen for 17km; the other side is entirely bituminous.
The first signs of incomplete work come at the 26km point,494km from Lucknow,where the up lane has not been metalled till the edge,something that goes on for about 100 yards. Grass has grown out of the road at one place of what is a National Highway.
The contractor,PCL-MVR (JV),has to maintain the stretch for one year from September 2011. It has six months to complete what remains,which includes putting up road signs at several places and plantation on the dividers.
We expect the company to complete the minor,unfinished work by their maintenance deadline of September 2012, says NHAI project director,Muzaffarpur,Rajesh Kumar.
Though the company missed the deadline by almost three years,the project director said no penalty was imposed because the NHAI had taken time to settle land issues at several places. Though he conceded that the project cost escalated,he said the delay did not amount to a breach of contract.
For all its faults,the upgrade has been appreciated locally for cutting the distances between several towns. Mukund Sharma of Muzaffarpur says: Now,it takes only an hour to reach Motihari,80km from here. Earlier,it took two-and-a-half hours. We only hope the road is properly maintained after a new company takes over from September.
Govt takes note
A day after the Indian Express report,Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar demanded that the Centre start a probe into the alleged fraud and corruption. I demand a probe. What has come out through the World Bank report must be thoroughly examined, he said.
The state government had already taken up the slow progress with the Centre several times,he said. He demanded that the unfinished work be completed in time.