Freeze costs, specifications, timelines before taking up projects: Mehbooba

CM reviews functioning of R&B Department

Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, today directed all executing agencies to take up projects only after costs, specifications and timelines are frozen by the indenting departments.

She added that the government cannot afford any cost overruns and delay in completion of projects which creates lot of hardships for the people. “The Department also needs to prepare a list of works to be prioritised this year, as we have a very limited working season at our disposal,” she added.

The Chief Minister said this while chairing a high-level meeting to review the functioning of the R&B Department.

Besides the Minister for Public Works & Parliamentary Affairs, A. R. Veeri, Chief Secretary, B. R. Sharma, Financial Commissioner, Planning & Monitoring, B. B. Vyas, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Navin K. Chaudhary and Commissioner/ Secretary, R&B, Rohit Kansal, also attended the meeting.

Expressing concern over cost escalations and inability of the department to complete projects on time, the Chief Minister said that all indenting departments should henceforth consult the executing agencies beforehand so that projects’ cost, specifications and timelines are frozen.

The Chief Minister also directed R&B Department to make advance preparations so that work on the newly-sanctioned five medical colleges is taken up immediately, for which funding by the Union Health & Family Welfare Ministry is expected shortly.

Mehbooba Mufti also suggested certain alterations in the existing design of the medical college buildings so that they are in conformity with the site locations where these are being established. She also passed instructions to the R&B Department to incorporate provision of rainwater harvesting in all future buildings to be constructed.

The Chief Minister drew attention to the trend-setting initiative taken in Udhampur where 56 small bridges were constructed in a period of only eight months by convergence of funds available with RDD and the District Administration under Project Rahat.  She said with this innovation a synergy was created thus bringing succour to a large population residing in the hilly district. “Similar dovetailing in R&B will yield positive results, keeping in view the challenges to laying of roads and buildings in hostile climatic conditions,” she added.

In order to inculcate healthy competition, the Chief Minister suggested that the work on construction of new medical colleges be allotted to different executing agencies like JKPCC, PHC et al.  She also passed directions to make State Roadways Development Corporation a self-sustaining organization by allotting them important works.

R&B Secretary informed the meeting about the type designs frozen for construction of degree and polytechnic colleges, besides sub-district and district hospitals, which are hanging fire due to cost escalation and subsequent funding issues.

On making SRDC viable, the Secretary R&B revealed that Madhya Pradesh Model will be examined, since the corporation there has done a phenomenal job in laying excellent roads.

On the direction given by the Chief Minister regarding empanelment of expert consultants for fast-tracking preparation of DPRs, FC P&M said a Committee has been framed which will speed up engagement of experts so that projects take off on time. He also suggested reducing post-receipt tendering period, which will enable early allotment of work contracts and avoid cost escalations.

The Secretary R&B informed the meeting that MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport & Highways) is expected to release a further tranche of Rs.4000 crore this year which will enable the department to take up new projects and upgrade existing ones over the next three years. He added that against a total release of Rs.702 crore under State Annual Plan in 2015-16, Rs.698 crore have already been expended under regular schemes.

Pointing out the delay in start of work on Marwah-Warwan Road, allotted under Central Road Fund (CRF), Mehbooba Mufti urged the Chief Secretary to convene special meetings of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) for clearance of all such road projects in far-flung and remote areas, keeping in view the limited working season available in hilly and rugged terrains of the state. She also directed the indenting departments to identify dumping sites for removal of debris so that forest clearances are obtained in a hassle-free manner.

R&B Secretary also underlined the need for enhancing allotment of funds under land acquisition as the Forest Department cannot convey NoC unless they receive the compensation.

To bring in more efficiency and quality in works, Mehbooba Mufti asked the R&B Department to streamline procurement of bitumen and cement, availability of which are critical to the completion of projects within stipulated timelines. She also asked the Finance Department to explore the possibility of creating a revolving fund which provides the much-needed leverage to the R&B Department to meet its urgent requirement on procurement side.

While reviewing the status of works under PMGSY, the Chief Minister asked FC P&M to provide a dispensation to R&B Department to take up 179 stuck-up schemes for which funding has been stopped by MoRTH due to cost overruns. These schemes were identified in 2008 but could not be sanctioned till 2012.

She also directed R&B Secretary to chase release of funds with MoRTH for speeding up construction of 500 bridges, indicating that a fund corpus of Rs.500 crore within CRF will enable the department to complete all these schemes.

The state is expected to receive a kitty of Rs.350 crore this year under PMGSY which will help in upgrading the rural connectivity to a great extent.

Minister for Public Works, in his address, highlighted the need for clubbing the various stages of tendering process for constructing PMGSY roads. He underlined the need for immediate repairs on the Batote-Doda-Kishtwar Road, which is in a poor condition. “We were promised funds by MoRTH, but so far no money has been released to us,” he added.

Earlier, the R&B Secretary presented a brief overview of the present status of woks under different schemes. He said over 34,000-km road length is maintained by R&B Department, which includes 6115 km under PMGSY. Due to support under PMGSY, he said a road length of 25,543 km has been surfaced ending 2015-16. “Against a total Plan outlay of Rs.1059.52 crore, an amount of Rs.1026 crore have been utilized, the meeting was informed,” he added.

Under NABARD, against an allocation of Rs.333.35 crore approved in 2015-16, an amount of Rs.232.97 crore was released, out of which Rs.230.37 crore were utilized. As many as 139 schemes are expected to be completed in the current financial year.

Similarly, under CRF, a Central scheme which primarily focuses on development of state roads and bridges, 25 schemes at a cost of Rs.785.56 crore have been sanctioned by the Centre. This he said, is in addition to the 56 ongoing schemes under CRF, work on which be completed over the next three years.