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Only 5 hrs, from anywhere in Bihar to Patna!

April 16, 2007 14:00 IST

Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar, says that the road building programme in Bihar has taken off on a big scale. He says that the state will spend about Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) on building roads and 'this does not include the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojana.'

In an interview with Aditi Phadnis, Nitish Kumar says: "My dream is to make sure that between Patna and anywhere in Bihar, the journey should not take more than five hours." Excerpts:

You have now been in power for 18 months. What is the progress on Bihar's road building programme?

We are spending Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.50 billion) on roads just in Patna. All over Bihar, road building is being taken up on a war footing. When the Centre withdrew money from the road building programme, we decided to fund it ourselves.

Recently, visitors to Patna were impressed to see that roads were being swept there. . .

No, because work is going on, you will find people laying bitumen, not necessarily sweeping the roads. People are being temporarily inconvenienced but you will find Patna will have spanking new roads in a few months. Our next priority for the capital is flyovers all over the city. But let me make it clear, road building is going on all over Bihar. We aim to spend Rs 3,000 crore on building roads. This does not include the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojana.

The Centre has not even completed its target of national highways. In fact, the state government was late in starting road construction. We floated the bids, but no contractors came out to take up the project. Remember, Bihar hasn't really known road building -- it has only had roads that have been repaired. So contractors don't even have the proper equipment that road building requires.

So we are planning something more -- a Road Equipment Bank. We are offering any private person, land to start a shed or a place where he can store road building equipment -- heavy machinery like mixers, cranes and road-rollers. Whoever builds the roads can borrow the equipment for a fee. We have already chosen the land. We are just waiting to see what equipment is on offer. It has to be the best, most modern road building equipment.

How much will the equipment bank cost?

Virtually nothing. The land will come from the PWD. In the Eleventh Plan, Bihar will have spent Rs 17-18,000 crore (Rs 170-180 billion) on roads. It will surpass the national average.

My dream is to make sure that between Patna and anywhere in Bihar, the journey should not take more than five hours. I have just completed the run from Patna to Monghyr in three-and-a-half hours (Till a year ago, this distance of 180 km used to take seven to eight hours -- BS Editor)

You don't seem to have any difficulty in spending money. But your colleague at the Centre, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh says he keeps giving you money for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) that Bihar is unable to spend. He has written many letters to you…

I have no time to keep writing letters to people who have nothing better to do than write letters. Some people are desperate for attention.

The state has reported low targets in NREGP…

Yes, there are teething problems. Can any work be taken up or just Panchayat work? On what land should the work be taken up? There is a problem of defining minimum wages: we have revised it from Rs 67 earlier to Rs 77 now, but this is not uniform. Muster rolls are not maintained. I told Prof Jean Dreze of the National Advisory Council about this. He said it is being implemented with great success elsewhere.

But I can't spend money simply because Raghuvansh babu wants me to. It isn't his money. I am not here to throw national resources down the drain. The tragedy is that you are reduced to having to learn to spend money from such people.

Your position on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) has been vindicated. You said you wanted no SEZs in Bihar, now most state governments are saying the same thing.

Our priorities are different. Bihar has formulated an excellent land acquisition policy. Earlier, the state government used to give land at the price at which it was registered, and add a solatium. We are acquiring land at the cost at which it is registered, but we add 50 per cent of the market rate to it. Plus, if the person gives the land willingly, he gets a solatium of 60 per cent. So if the cost of the land is Rs 100, we pay him Rs 240.

We need land for roads, flyovers, bridges… So we have started a land bank: land over which there is no dispute. We have invested Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) so far. We have got industry -- sugar, maize, alcohol -- coming to the state. This means the farmer senses a gain straightaway.

The West Bengal chief minister said recently he didn't know the police had fired bullets in Nandigram. Is this possible?

Well, I don't know under what circumstances the firing took place. Sometimes the police sense a threat and have to fire. They can't ask the CM for his permission at that moment.

What were the mistakes he made in acquiring land?

I don't know enough to say.

You have another serious problem: Power.

Yes, this is a serious problem, especially because a solution cannot come overnight. Power plants take time to build. Here again, Bihar's problems are different. Power generation by the state is near zero. We have to purchase every unit of power we consume from the Centre. The sub-transmission system in the state is poor.

In three or four years, NTPC will set up plants in Bhagalpur, Kahalgaon and Barh. I got Atal Bihari Vajpayee to inaugurate the Barh plant when he was the PM. So this is not a new plan. NTPC was committed to it. But the Bihar government never bothered to get the Power Purchase Agreement signed.

NTPC is also going to set up a plant in Nabinagar (1320 Mw). Some hydel projects in Indrapur, on the Sone, the Kosi barrage and Kaimur are also going to come up.

We can purchase all the power we want. But consider the figures: the national average per capita consumption of power is 600 units. Bihar consumes 74 units per capita.

Bihar has presented a deficit budget for 2007-08. How will you find the money to do all this ?

You know how much revenue from sales tax has increased in 18 months? 23 per cent. We had given concessions to the transport sector. The enforcement has been lax. There is no improvement in collections. I am going to address this. Collections from excise are upwards of Rs 400 crore. The main thing is the visible, demonstrable punishment for corruption through fast track courts.

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