A couple of days ago, I was helping a friend of mine for her assignment, in which we were asking random people about their expectations from the ensuing ‘Arunachal Pradesh State Budget 2019’. During the course of the assignment, we came across many people in Itanagar and, when asked about their expectations, almost 90% of them said that they expect nothing but the government to fix the roads, particularly in the capital region.
The people whom we came across and spoke to could have said anything in terms of their expectations but they didn’t. Neither was I or my friend surprised. As the dwellers of Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, we have not had the privilege of plying on good roads for quite some years now.
It is a basic fact that good roads make a crucial contribution to economic development and growth of a region and bring important social benefits. Besides this, it is the responsibility of every government to provide good roads to its people.
However, the same cannot be said about Arunachal’s capital as driving on the roads of Itanagar is not less than experiencing a nightmare for many.
The stretch of road from Pappu Nallah to Bank Tinali is wrought with problems, thanks to the land acquisition issues (land being state subject), unplanned earth cutting and digging, lack of drains, very less or rather zero maintenance carried out by the authorities concerned and most importantly the lack of political will.
I’ve been living in Itanagar for almost five years now and the said stretch of road which was already in a dilapidated condition has worsened since.
The bumpy ride of these roads is not only dangerous for commuters, but it has for a couple of years also started acting as a major factor behind the traffic chaos which the capital has been witnessing.
So whom do we blame? Do we blame the government?
Yes, the government can be blamed, but only to a certain extent. Yes, for the time being, the government seems to have forgotten that Itanagar is the capital of Arunachal and its roads are pathetic. It seems to have forgotten about the day-to-day sufferings of the public as the road is a lifeline of many, not only for those living in Itanagar but also to that of the state.
For the time being, the leader(s) of the government who post(s) pictures only of the good roads of the state on social media and allegedly “blocks those who questions about the capital roads” seem to have accepted that nothing can be done about it.
The government can also be blamed for showing no political will, as it has been in many cases; “it only acts when there is pressure put on it by unions or organisations”.
But having said that, it is the same government which has taken the initiative to convert the earlier 10.9-km-long Chandranagar-Papu Nallah two-lane road into a four-lane one, a project worth Rs 196.16 crore and which was also flagged of by the state’s deputy chief minister on September 21, 2017.
So what happened after that?
If local analysts are to be quoted, they say much of the blame goes to the Naharlagun-based road construction firm which was given the tender to construct the road and a small amount of blame also goes to the dwellers of the capital.
Following the flagging off of the construction work, the project straight away ran into rough weather due to compensation issues as there were many who either were not happy with the compensation amount provided or were adamant to leave their establishments even though most of them were constructed illegally and fell within the Right of Way (ROW).
This halted the work for quite some time and I am told that there are still a few cases which are pending at the local and even high courts.
As soon as most of the compensation hurdle was cleared, it was expected that the particular road construction company would carry on with its work but such has not been the case.
Analysts say the firm, considered one of the best, if not the best in the region, has failed to live up to the expectations of the people.
If one takes a drive from Pappu Nallah to Chandranagar it becomes visible that either the constructing company is least bothered about the project or they are not getting paid for doing their job and are only playing hand in gloves with the authorities concerned.
Not even a kilometre of road has been built properly and the little road which was there earlier has also been turned into an off-roading track due to rampant earth cutting and digging.
Such cases of the constructing company cannot only be seen in Itanagar as the same is the situation in the Tirap and Changlang districts where it has its project.
The record of the company also got a big dent when the National Highways Infrastructure and Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) terminated its contract with the firm in Assam for it not being able to complete the 18.4-km stretch road from Nagaon bypass to Rangagara.
Going through all this, what surprises one more is the failure of the Arunachal state government to take any serious action against this firm.
Many of the locals are of the opinion that the Arunachal government, like its counterpart in Assam, should show some political will and terminate the contract of the company and hand over the project to some firm from outside.
Although I agree to the locals to a certain extent, at the same time I also think that the dwellers of Itanagar should also raise their voice against the government in such matters.
I understand that the people here a quite media shy but there are many ways that they can make their voices heard.
The people of Itanagar in particular and the state as a whole must also understand that till the time we do not speak, there will be no one to help us. Just posting pictures of the dilapidated roads and traffic jams on social media will not help.
We should stop waiting for some money-hungered union to take up this issue and speak for our rights and come out on the open to question the government, the construction firm and the authorities on the reasons halting the progress of project and many others.
The government, the construction firm and the authorities will only listen when the public speaks.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. Views expressed are his own)