Guwahati: The Central government had “almost withdrawn” investments in national highways (NH) in Assam around five years ago, as the toll gates of the state were non-operational due to protests by local people and organisations, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in the Assembly on Thursday.

It was only after the toll gates were made operational in the later part of the previous state government’s term that funds started flowing in again, he added.

“The Centre had informed us that unless the government of Assam opens the toll gates, no money will be pumped in (through the National Highways Authority of India). It was almost five years ago and the Central government had almost withdrawn all its investment in highways,” Sarma said.

The central government had asked Assam why it was unable to operate toll gates when other states such as Gujarat and West Bengal were operating them, he said.

The Centre had also said that funds for other road projects too would be withdrawn if the toll gates are not reopened, Sarma informed the assembly.

The chief minister was responding to a call attention motion moved by BJP legislator Nandita Garlosa over the condition of the national highway in Dima Hasao district.

Sarma, who held the finance and PWD portfolios among others in the previous BJP-led dispensation in the state, said that the government held internal discussions and analysed what will help the commuters.

The toll gates on national highways across the state were constructed during the Congress regime, but had to be shut down owing to protests by local people and several organisations who claimed that paying tax at toll gates would put an additional financial burden on commoners.

“Toll gate (payment) is a psychological issue. If you analyse properly, you will find that more money will be spent on fuel and maintenance of vehicles if roads are not maintained,” Sarma said, adding that once the toll gates were reopened, the Centre has started re-investing through the NHAI.

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The chief minister said that Rs 1,823 crore has been approved by the NHAI for a 49-km stretch in Dima Hasao. The organisation has started preparing the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and the tender for the work will be floated by end of this year.

“The NHAI has taken a loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the project,” he added.

A four-km part in this stretch is prone to landslides and erosion and the NHAI will construct an elevated road for that portion, Sarma said.

“I am personally following the matter and given the importance of this national highway for the people of Dima Hasao, we shall ensure its timely completion,” the chief minister said.

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