Building Bihar, one road at a time

February 25th, 2011 - 4:56 pm ICT by IANS  

By Imran Khan
Raghunathpur/Patna/Gaya, Feb 25 (IANS) Shahbaz Khan earlier used to take seven to eight hours to travel from Raghunathpur to the state capital, a distance of about 100 km, to market his goods. Now it takes just three, thanks to a metalled road, the most visible and talked about sign of development in a changing Bihar. “Look at this road….now, buses are plying from here to Patna and other towns. It is a big change for us,” Shahbaz, in his late 20s, told IANS pointing to the road in front of his home. His village is in the Maoist violence-affected Aurangabad district.

He has seen his father and his grandfather spend their lives without understanding what the word ‘road’ meant. And yet here he is now, standing outside his home, pointing to the road.

Balram, a farmer in his 50s, said hundreds of his neighbours and relatives had died waiting to see a road in their village.

“This road is a dream come true….and it has been fulfilled during Nitish Kumar’s tenure,” he said.

Bihar’s economic survey for 2010-11 said nearly 10,800 km of rural roads, including 3,054 km of National Highways, were built in the last five years in the state.

According to a rural works department official, the state laid over 25 percent of its road network after independence in the past five years alone.

Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad once famously promised to build roads as smooth as actress Hema Malini’s cheeks. But that unkept promise has been fulfilled by his successor and political opponent Nitish Kumar who has a promise of his own - of reducing the travel time between capital Patna and any village to six hours or less.

About 2,417 km of roads were constructed in Bihar in 2008-09, compared to 415 km in 2005-06. Under the Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojana, 323 km of road was constructed in 2008-09. About 1,913 km was also constructed under the Mukhyamantri Gram Sadak Yojana in the same year.

A survey, presented in the state assembly Wednesday, shows both the plan outlay and expenditure of the road construction department in 2009-10 set a new record for the state, standing at Rs.3,046 crore and Rs.3,045 crore respectively.

Bihar has a total road network of 94,009.42 km, of which 74 percent constitute link routes whereas national and state highways form about five percent each.

The survey pointed out that 3,474 km of roads were built in 2009-10 and 1,325 km till October 2010. Not only that, the state built 1,951.51 km of National Highways from its own resources, without waiting for central funds.

Buried under all these statistics are equally numerous stories of prosperity and happiness.

Like Shambhu Rai, a vegetable grower in Gaya district.

“Earlier, I was forced to sell my produce to local traders….the roads were so bad, it took me hours to reach the ‘mandi’ (wholesale market) in Patna. Now I can travel to the mandi, where I can get a good price,” he smiles.

A.K. Jha, a senior researcher at Patna’s A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, said the roads have consolidated Nitish Kumar’s pro-development image.

“It also helped that Nitish Kumar in achieving a historic verdict in the October-November state polls,” Jha told IANS. “Bad roads do not give people in small towns and villages sleepless nights anymore.”

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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