Union Minister Nitin Gadkari could well use the current Covid-19 crisis and turn it into an opportunity to address a number of other problems which include roadblocks in highway projects in the country as well as the issue of stranded migrant labourers in many states.
Speaking to news agency PTI recently, Gadkari said that talks are underway with state governments to resume work on highway construction projects where stranded migrant labourers can be given employment.
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The road transport, highways and MSME minister reportedly said that district collectors can take a decision on employing migrant labourers to jump start highway projects across the country. He added that adequate safety protocol, however, will have to be in place. "I had a meeting with road sector officials. Work can be re-started at projects with condition that adequate measures are taken for safeguard against coronavirus. We have to follow guidelines. At some places collectors have given permission, some not. We are doing a follow up along with the chief secretaries of the states," Gadkari was quoted as saying.
The national lockdown in India began from the intervening night of March 24 and 25. It was extended on Tuesday till May 3. While people are continuously being urged to stay at home to check on the spread of Covid-19, migrant labourers in urban centres have reportedly faced massive problem as money has become scarce and most have been unable to return to their respective villages. This is especially the case in big metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Gadkari's suggestion could indeed come as a shot in the arm for these labourers as well as quicken the pace of highway construction at a time when road traffic is next to negligible. "As soon as we get permissions from the state government, we will start the construction work. Contractors will work in adherence to the norms while keeping safe for coronavirus. We will adhere to all guidelines," the minister reportedly said.
Hindustan Times had previously reported on how national highway projects worth ₹2.71 lakh have run into delays caused by reasons ranging from holdups in land acquisition and inability to procure environmental clearances to disputes with contractors. The report dated March 6, citing data from ministry of road transport and highways presented to Parliament, elaborated that a total of 773 national highway projects spanning a length of 28,432 km are facing time overruns.