TWO DAYS after Naxals torched 36 vehicles of a road construction crew in Dadapur village in Gadchiroli and the subsequent IED blast that killed 15 Quick Response Team (QRT) personnel and their civilian driver near Jambhur Kheda village, road construction work has come to a standstill in the district.
At present, work is underway to reconstruct two key state highways in the district. Work on a third highway is expected to commence shortly. “In the aftermath of the attack, all road works in the district have stopped. Construction crew are afraid to risk going back to work,” said Rajiv Gaikwad, Superintendent Engineer of Gadchiroli’s public works department (PWD) unit.
The highway being built along Dadapur — Purada-Godalwahi — is one of three state highways that the state government hopes to complete on a priority basis. It will provide a vital source of connectivity to local residents and also aid police movement, said officials.
The PWD is currently engaged in the completion of two 50-km stretches of road — Purada-Godalwahi and Thanegoan-Dhanora. Nagpur-based contractor M/S Infratech Construction had began work on these stretches in February. A contractor has been selected for the third 50-km stretch — Etapally-Atapally — but a formal concessionaire agreement is yet to be signed. “We expect to get this done in the next 15 days or so,” said Gaikwad.
Of the total of 945 km of state highways in the district, 280 km are being renovated this year, while out of 1,095 km of major district roads, PWD is working on upgrading 130 km. Each of these roads, said the PWD, has to be built within two years and maintained by the contractors for eight years.
“Solid roads were first constructed in the district by Border Roads Organisation 20 to 25 years ago under very dangerous circumstances. Since then, these roads have been improved and re-laid periodically. Since last year, we have identified three state highways, which are important in aiding the police’s efforts against the Naxals,” said an PWD engineer.
According to the PWD, in Wednesday’s arson, Chhattisgarh-based civil contractor Infratech Construction suffered damages of more than Rs 10 crore, after 36 of its vehicles, including mixers and crew cabins, were torched by Naxals.
The police said that armed men and women had rounded up the crew and confiscated their phones to prevent from them calling for assistance, before setting fire to the vehicles. The Maoists also hung more than two dozen banners in the village, warning the government and private contractors from carrying out any further work in the area.
On Wednesday, the 15 QRT personnel and the driver had left Kurkheda police station at 11.23 am in a private vehicle to report to Purada police station to investigate the arson. They died as the IED exploded on the way.
The arson comes as a setback to the local administration that had a tough time getting a contractor on board to construct the Purada-Godalwahi stretch. “Very poor response was received when the tender was floated six months ago. Eventually, the current contractor applied and we explained the circumstances under which the work was to be carried out. Road construction contractors are aware of the risks involved,” said Gaikwad.
“We will give the contractor a few days to recover from this before contacting them. We will then see whether they require police protection to carry out the rest of the work,” said Gaikwad, adding that the contractor had not sought protection while beginning work in February.
Narendra Rathi, Director of Infratech Construction, said that he was thankful that none of his crew was hurt in the arson. “What happened was God’s will but it is also due to God’s grace that my crew was unhurt. I have sent them on leave for a week to be with their families. Only after they recover from this shock, will I ask them to resume work,” he added.
Gadchiroli SP Shailesh Balkawade said that a call would be taken on resuming road construction work once the situation has been studied and threats assessed. “We will analyse local intelligence and look at individuals requests from contractors to provide security cover,” he added.