Varanasi: The epidemic of 'Babudom' and 'Bureaucracy'
The poor state of Varanasi’s National Highway bridge projects is primarily due to the apathetic bureaucracy both at the Centre and the State level and this will surely play out in the 2019 elections
Anurag Bohra Delhi
The Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways has initiated several new road projects to improve connectivity between Varanasi and the rest of Uttar Pradesh at an estimated total cost of Rs. 7,100 crore. Including, bypasses, bridges and highways the projects cover a total distance of nearly 524 kilometers. The most significant among these are the Ghaghra Bridge-Varanasi NH233 Package-I, II & III projects being constructed on the Ghaghra River on Varanasi’s Chowka Ghat. The project is of particular significance, it seeks decongest one of the most used routes in and out of the city, bringing the key neighbouring regions closer, and as the river has a tendency to flood keeping the flow of traffic moving even in the monsoon.
However, the issues of mismanagement, bad governance and poor administration have put these projects to a standstill. The tussle between the center and state governments, the row over low wages to construction workers and the negligence of the Mini-PMO (the PM's office in the city) towards the grievances of the residents of Varanasi has stalled these projects that are targeted to cash in on the 2019 general elections.
The Package I Ghaghra Bridge, which NH-233 budgeted around Rs. 674 crore was launched on December 2015 with a deadline of June 2018. The rift between the BJP-led NDA government and the Uttar Pradesh’s Samajvadi Party-run state government is said to be hampering the physical progress of the bridge according to ground reports from local sources. According to Vinay Jain, a resident of Ravindrapuri Colony at Varanasi, “The coordination issues between the center and state governments always comes in the way of key infrastructure projects in Varanasi. There’s a lack of trust between the bureaucracy and babus of the central and state government institutions that halts any development initiative being undertaken for Kashi’s welfare.” The lack of coordination between the PMO, New Delhi and CMO, Uttar Pradesh in allocation and dispensing of funds have adversely impacted these infrastructure initiatives. Package I’s physical progress hasn’t exceeded beyond 2 percent since its inauguration.
The Package II bridge project has also suffered due to the low wages being paid to construction workers. An official connected with the project requesting anonymity said, “The issue has been resolved and the work will commence soon.” Still, accomplishing the construction prior to the target deadline of June 2018 seems next-to-impossible as on 8 percent of the physical progress of the bridge has been completed. The non-payment or underpayment to workers in government-run real estate projects is not a new norm, having been seen under successive governments.
Similarly Package III Ghaghra Bridge’s physical progress has stagnated around 5 percent, as the deadline of June 2018 draws closer. Many believe it to be due to the indifferent and unresponsive functioning of the Mini PMO in Varanasi. The lack of urgency involved in finishing the bridge for many is likened to the way the 'media gimmick' has failed in addressing the basic grievances of the locals. While many complain that basic amenities such as power, water supply, sanitation, gas connections are not ensured and the education-loan, house-subsidy promised have not materialised instead what they are facing is growing encroachment within the city . A lot of legal beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, a scheme launched for the economically weaker sections where the beneficiary gets interest subsidy on the construction or purchase of a house are still to get their dues. There is growing disillusion amongst the residents of the city towards the 'developmental' promises that were made by the PM in the run up to the 2014 elections.
Due to these reasons the locals are unwilling to assist or cooperate with the government in their construction projects. Local activist have taken to protesting against the growing negligence of the government towards the environment, the opposition parties have also smelled an opportunity to apply pressure on the beleagured government, and the labourers have refused to work.
The Malviya Bridge, one of the oldest bridges constructed in Varanasi made in the pre-independence era during 1887 is also facing similar problems in its maintenance. Therefore, it is imperative for both the central and state governments to regain as well as retain the trust and confidence of labourers and residents of Varanasi by immediate redressal of citizen’s grievances. Once the faith in the government is restored, it would be easier to smoothly run ambitious infrastructure projects. But unless the sustainable goals comprising illiteracy, poverty, healthcare and environment are not given due attention it won’t be feasible to launch any new development initiatives in Varanasi. Also, the centre must take into confidence all the stake holders including the state government, labour unions, civil servants and opposition leaders to ensure timely completion of infrastructure projects. If these options are not taken into consideration, it would be detrimental to the BJP in the 2017 state elections as well as 2019 general elections. So, it is in the utmost interest of the government to resolve the issue to the earliest possible.