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Himachal road repair hastened ahead of apple harvest

Shimla, June 3 - A World Bank-funded road project in Himachal Pradesh awarded to a Chinese firm has missed its deadline, prompting the government to engage new contractors for repairs ahead of the apple harvest season in July, a minister said.

The bumpy 80-km-long Theog-Kotkhai-Hatkoti-Rohru stretch, the lifeline for Shimla's prominent apple belt which carries out annual business worth Rs.1,000 crore, is a motorist's nightmare.

The government has now stepped in to improve traffic movement on some stretches of the road connecting Theog, 35 km from state capital Shimla, to Rohru as the Chinese firm has only managed to complete 30 percent of the work in the last three years.

"The road's construction has been speeded up at five-six critical points. For this work has been reallocated to new contractors. If the weather permits, 30 km out of the total stretch would be made motorable before the apple season," Horticulture Minister Narender Bragta, who is the area legislator, told IANS Sunday.

The public works department (PWD) last month awarded the contract to make the road obstruction-free as transportation of half of the state's total apple produce is dependent on it.

Bragta, who inspected the road work Saturday, said at present the emphasis of repair was on those stretches where the road condition was quite bad. "But the entire road project would take another year or more to complete," he added.

Government officials said since the awarding of the Rs.228 crore (over $40 million)project to Chinese firm Longjian Road and Bridge Company Ltd in 2008 the work had come to a standstill a number of times.

The project, allocated through global bidding, was originally scheduled to be completed by 2011.

Less than 30 percent of the work has been completed by the Chinese firm so far, said PWD Chief Engineer Naresh Sharma.

He said a team of the World Bank, currently touring the state to review the progress on road projects funded by it, would inspect the Theog-Rohru stretch Monday.

The Chinese firm's officials blamed the delays on factor beyond their control.

They said the work on the project had come to a standstill in 2009 when the Indian government tightened visa norms for foreigners working in the country. At that time, most of their employees had to return to China.

"There was an unusual delay (by the state) in getting forest clearance for road-widening and even the land acquisition process was quite time consuming," said a company official, requesting anonymity.

The hill state has limited rail connectivity, no waterway and only three small domestic airports, forcing it to rely exclusively on its road network for transportation.

In April last year, a road project connecting Zirakpur town in Punjab with Parwanoo in the hill state was constructed by Himalayan Expressway Ltd, a subsidiary of construction, cement and power sector company Jaypee Group.

The 27.6 km four-lane road, located on the Delhi-Chandigarh-Shimla section, is unique as it passes through three states - Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.


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