Story from Odisha: Stretching the limits to pave an all-weather road in Maoist-hit ChhattisgarhWritten By News Root | Published on Updated: Aug 30, 2022, 18:31 IST | 1661864474285After splitting the 40-km road work into 19 portions and unsuccessfully calling for tenders four times, the Palli-Barsur Marg connecting Narayanpur and Dantewada districts is on the verge of completion, nearly 12 years after it was sanctioned.
Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Narayanpur, Chhattisgarh: This is Anil Kumar Yadav’s first work stint in Chhattisgarh. A resident of Allahabad, now officially Prayagraj, he has been engaged as the site engineer on a sensitive five-km stretch that forms part of the 39.4 km Palli-Barsur Marg connecting Maoist-hit Narayanpur and Dantewada districts of the state. Work on this last stretch in Orchha block of Narayanpur district started around 2020 and is finally nearing completion, expecting to open to the public by the year-end.
“I was employed in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, for a few years. But this area is very different. Working here without protection is impossible. Sometimes, I feel apprehensive, but nothing can be done about it,” Yadav told 101Reporters on a cloudy afternoon.
The interior areas of these districts have no proper roads due to left-wing extremism and Palli-Barsur Marg is a case in point. The nearly 40-km road was approved for construction by the Centre back in 2010 and had suffered multiple setbacks over the decade.
According to Yadav, a BTech degree holder, many workers scoot after a few days or just refuse to come. It is one of the reasons behind the sluggish pace. “Whoever comes here joins after a lot of deliberation. Local workers also refuse to stay at CRPF camps for fear of reprisal.”
Yet, it's only the presence of CRPF camps that makes construction possible. There are six CRPF camps along the 39.4-km-stretch of the Palli-Barsur Marg. Yadav, who has been hired on a contract basis, resides in one of them. “Construction is possible only for six hours every day as the road opening party is present here only for this duration. Even now, no one comes here, but before work commenced, there was not a soul to be seen,” he said.
Failure to start
Madhu Kumar Bhourya, Sub-divisional Officer at the Public Works Department (PWD) of Dantewada district, informed that though work could not be carried out earlier due to Maoist disturbance, the government is consistently working towards increasing accessibility in rural areas of Bastar sub-division through roads and bridges.
The Palli-Barsur Marg plan was sanctioned in 2010, but work started only five years later after the security camps were set up to ensure the safety of workers. According to Bhourya, only a few metres could be completed in a month due to security issues.
The entire project faced hiccups from the first go. The first tender call happened in 2010-11 and 2011-12 for the entire 39.4 km stretch. The second tender call took place in 2012-13, when the stretch was split into six parts for convenience. The third tender call was in 2014-15, with the stretch divided into 14 parts. Each time, there were no takers. It was dissected again to create 19 parts in February 2014. The fourth tender call for the same was made in July 2014, with four companies bagging tenders.
As the cost escalated with the passage of time, the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways revised the budget to Rs 125.23 crore on January 19, against the initial budget of Rs 54.25 crore.
“Tender was opened four times, but nobody participated in the process out of fear. However, when the stretch was divided into 19 parts, several agencies showed interest. The district reserve wing of the state police and CRPF are extending protection, yet it is a challenging task,” Bhourya, who has been posted in Dantewada since 2016, added.
Bhourya admitted that there have been a few casualties here. “Our department used to carry out monitoring of this stretch located in Narayanpur from Dantewada district. But we faced problems in travelling a vast distance, and that is why 18.40 km of the total 39.4 km was handed over to Narayanpur and 21 km was kept for Dantewada.”
Under the shadow of protection
As the car sped on, the CRPF 195 battalion camp at Bodli in Bastar came into view. Moving forward, construction materials were seen dumped at Narayanpur. These are the chips of granite and limestone supplied from Dantewada and Narayanpur districts. The laying of the black bituminous layer on the surface is the final step in road construction.
Men were found working at the location where Yadav is in charge. Satyendra Kumar Chauhan, who is also from Uttar Pradesh, said a CRPF camp just 200m away is the reason why most workers agreed to be in the location. “Some jawans also come from Malewahi camp as well. Sometimes, work stops abruptly due to heavy rainfall,” said the JCB machine operator, who has been working here for two months.
The construction site in Narayanpur is a dangerous spot. But if connected by road, commuters could use this stretch to reach Barsur and Geedam in Dantewada, as well as Bijapur, with the distance reduced by 100 km. “It is a Maoist-hit area. But work is important for livelihood and so being afraid always does not help,” Chauhan added.
At the last point on this 39.4-km-stretch lies Kanhargaon in Narayanpur. Here, the road work was completed last year, and the residents, mostly farmers, have welcomed it.
“It was a morrum road before, and we faced difficulty in travelling. The Maoist influence has also softened down due to security forces. There is a CRPF camp just three km away,” said Kalawati Netam, a Gond Adivasi.
Dantewada Superintendent of Police Siddharth Tiwari said Maoists had earlier targeted not just the police, but also civilians in the stretch where work was on. “It is a road of strategic importance, connecting the Southern Bastar region with north and central Chhattisgarh, which will also reduce the distance considerably. It will provide a faster alternative route to the people travelling from southern India.”
“It is a great feeling to see the road almost complete,” said Ramuram Mandavi, a resident of Erpund gram panchayat in Lohaniguda block of Bastar district. Earlier, people had to travel by foot in this forested area, but cars and bikes can go now.
As the work progressed on the five-km-stretch, many villagers were amazed to see a bituminous road for the first time ever — with the sense of connectivity set to sink in.
(The author is a Delhi-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)