Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari tells Saima Bhat that common man will start noticing the change on ground within next 5 months
Altaf Bukhari (AB): It was almost four months back and yes I accept it was a nightmare. I have taken two meetings in last 45 days since our government came into place. I held meetings with National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) and then with Union Minister for Roads and Service Transport, Nitin Gadkari, who have advised RAMKY to show a remarkable progress on ground within next 60 days. So by the end of June, if we do not find any remarkable progress on road I have told the NHAI that we will have a re-look of the whole process of contract.
KL: Mufti wants to boost tourism. But do you know what kind of impression a tourist carries when he travels on Kashmir roads?
AB: I know road connectivity is important for jobs as well as tourism. If there is good connectivity people can go for work and tourists can visit us. We have an ambitious road plan and people will see results very soon. We will start rebuilding all roads. September 2014 deluge took away most of the road structures. We are attending to it on priority. As soon as the weather improves you will see roads will be attended on priority.
KL: Pantha Chowk became one of the reasons why NC was routed and hated by people in South Kashmir. You want to go down NC way?
AB: We have already released a handsome amount of Rs 10 crore for widening of Pantha Chowk. You must have seen shops and houses are being removed. Now, Pantha Chowk will not see any road jams by end of May.
KL: NC says you are crazy about getting your pictures clicked rather than doing actual work. When will we see PDP working for a common man?
AB: I would not like to respond to this allegation. They are free to allege anything. The mess NC created in last six years is huge, if they think it can be cleared by PDP government in 6 days they are mistaken. I am sure that I won’t ask for 6 years to clear this mess but give us 6 months, you will see we’ll clear most of it, created by them.
KL: During elections your slogan was ‘time for progress’ and ‘time for change’. When will progress and change happen?
AB: I think we are going too fast. We didn’t expect to go as fast as we are going. A common man will start noticing the change on ground in next 3 to 5 months. My sector is infrastructure; it is not painting a wall which can happen overnight. Any road which needs to be built first needs proper drainage, proper surfacing, and then comes the macadamization, all this takes time. So people will have to bear with us, these are infrastructure related things. First results you will see by June and I am sure people will appreciate something has happened on ground.
KL: It is alleged that from a Chief Engineer to a 4th grade employee everybody in PWD is neck deep in corruption. How are you going to tackle that?
AB: I am happy that you did not mention the Minister today. I have made that change at least that the list has come down by two steps: from a minister and commissioner secretary to the chief engineers level. I believe corruption starts from the top, it does not go from the bottom. I do agree that this department has a bad reputation. I will try my best to give PWD good governance, good administration so that corrupt practices are minimized.
KL: You repeatedly said there would be no compromise on the quality of roads. But hot-mix plant contractors allege that department (written in tenders) compels them to use lesser amount of tar. In 90s, under governor’s rule a private company named Prakash Constructions was asked to do macadamization of Residency road with 75 mm which included 90kgs per CUM but now roads are getting filled with 50mm or 25 mm with only 60kgs per CUM.
AB: I too have studied the subject. I had a meeting with hot-mix plant owners association two days back. We are revising our specifications and a NIT (tender) is being issued with new terms and conditions. Roads which will be macadamized now will have proper specifications and we will see that a contractor delivers those specifications and then there will be a third party inspection of those roads.
We will certify that these specifications will be met and we will be making them responsible for three years after they make a road, for maintenance. We are ready to pay them the built-in cost for maintenance as well but we won’t let common masses suffer.
We won’t mind giving these roads to any non-Kashmiri company if my local hot-mix contractors won’t agree with our terms and conditions. They have to assure us quality work within specific time.
For future we have a plan to build a new road which will be ductable road, rigid pavement road, where instead of bitumen, cement concreting will be done and the first road will be build from Barzulla to Rangret.
KL: Is there any plan to manage the liabilities?
AB: Liabilities that have been created as per proper procedure, I mean through tendering by any government, is continuous with any government. It doesn’t make any difference that yesterday there was one government and today there is another. Governments continue, only people change.
But what has been done without norms, without tenders, are the liabilities which we don’t accept as a government. Why should we pay liability which has been created illegally? If they have any documentary proof then good else we won’t pay anything. Legally ,liability should not be more than Rs 220 to Rs 230 crores. Illegal can be anything, I don’t own that.
KL: Your role was appreciated during September 2014 floods. You are MLA from one of the worst hit areas. Is there any long term plan to prevent such disasters?
AB: I will try my best to see that the September 2014 like situation does not happen again.
But in any disaster if you think you can bring out 100 percent population in boats, it is impossible. In a proper flood management you have to see 98 percent of people should move out on foot and only 2 percent can be moved out using boats and helicopters.
Long term measures like dredging of rivers, a new flood channel is in progress, removal of encroachments on banks and all these things will continue. There will be no sparing on basis of political connections, gareeb (poor), ameer (rich), anybody, we will demolish it. This is my word that nobody will be spared!
KL: Two important projects of Srinagar and Jammu highways were given to outside companies. While Jammu stretch is ready Kashmir side has missed three deadlines?
AB: It is single highway, a portion of it, Jammu-Udhampur was given to one contractor because his bid was lowest and another portion – Qazigund to Srinagar went unfortunately to another contractor.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the contractor for this side had issues with NHAI. They couldn’t sort it out despite last government’s efforts. I won’t say last government didn’t try. They did.
But now we have been able to sort those differences and in next 45 days, they have been asked to show remarkable work on ground. If they don’t, we would not mind asking for a new contractor to take over and order a financial audit of this company, whether this company has the financial muscle to built it or not. And let me tell you financial audit of a company is the death nail for any company. But I am sure RAMKY understands the seriousness of present government. And I am sure they will deliver. Mufti Sahib is not a person for words, he believes in action on ground, so if they don’t deliver, you will not see RAMKY anymore.
About NH1A, we have asked them return the highway if they can’t do it.
KL: In the last fiscal can you share how much amount was used for construction in Kashmir and Jammu?
AB: Planned projects under road sections was Rs 125 crores in Kashmir and Rs 125 crores in Jammu, Rs 25 crores for bridges in Kashmir and Rs 25 crores for bridges in Jammu, so it is same. But liabilities created in Jammu are much higher (twice) than created in Kashmir.
Out of 5200 works done in Jammu, 3800 have been done on private negotiations by the department and only 1400 through tendering process. Transparency on works in Jammu has been less while as in Kashmir only 4000 works have been done, out of which 3913 were done on tendering basis and only 87 done on private negotiations done by the department.
I am looking into it and I said whosoever would be responsible, action will be taken against that person.
KL: Any good or bad experience as minister?
AB: Good experience is that I work with people who are cream of the society. Bad experience, they (engineers) have the ugliest name ‘choor’ in the society. I will try to change that image because I believe there may be some bad fish in the pond but whole pond is not dirty. We will try to weed out those bad fish and encourage others.
KL: The construction of Jahangir Chowk- Rambagh flyover has put commuters at the mercy of chocked alternative routes. Isn’t there a way out?
AB: It is a big project and will take time. But we can ease commuter’s pain. I have a plan, which I will be discussing with officials. If engineers agree with me, I will try to see if only one way traffic is allowed because the other tube, sericulture side is closed. I will see if it is practically possible to remove the legal encroachments like sericulture building and shops so that both the tubes get functional. If that happens, traffic may ply slowly instead of going through diversion. I am going to discuss it in a few days. In the interest of general public, we may have to sacrifice the sericulture building.