The Centre has decided to relax norms for Assam so that it can get benefits at par with tribal areas and hill states for constructing rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Union minister Jairam Ramesh said today.
"So far under PMGSY programme, the criteria is that habitations with a population of more than 500 will be taken up for connectivity, except in the hill states and in tribal areas of the country where the population norm is 250," the rural development minister told reporters in Guwahati.
"Assam is not classified as a tribal area or as a hill state. In Assam, the population criteria is 500. The Cabinet in its meeting last week has directed me to come back to it within one month's time to change the criteria for Assam so that all habitation with 250 plus population gets connected under the PMGSY programme," he added.
This will benefit over 3,000 habitations and entail construction of an additional 2,500 kms of roads in Assam.
Ramesh said there is also another proposal to reduce the population criteria to 100 in tribal areas under Fifth Schedule.
Lauding the performance of the PMGSY programme in Assam, Ramesh said 13,000km of rural roads have been constructed in the state during past 11 years at an expenditure of Rs7,100 crore. The project is fully funded by the Centre.
"Today I discussed with chief minister Tarun Gogoi the balance of the programme. There are around 4,500km of roads left to be built to connect all habitations with 500 plus population," he said.
"By end of February, proposal for the rest would be submitted by the state government and we hope that within this fiscal, the sanction from the central government would be in place," Ramesh said.
Ramesh said in response to a request from the Assam government, the Centre has permitted three more technical agencies -- Guwahati Engineering College, Jorhat Engineering College and NIT Silchar -- to review infrastructure projects.
Till now only one institution -- IIT Guwahati -- was in the list.
The central government has also given in-principal approval for setting up of an academy for training engineers and technicians in construction, on the lines of National Academy of Construction Hyderabad.
"We have given in-principal approval. This will be a regional centre for Management Construction Technology," Ramesh said.
He said Assam has proposed setting up of an Equipment Bank for leasing out construction equipment to engineers and contractors.
"Once we (centre) receive the formal proposal we will take it forward," Ramesh said.
The Centre will also consider a proposal for central funding of bridges of over 50 metres length under PMGSY.
"Assam government has proposed extending the limit to 100 metres. No decision has so far been taken but I am hopeful of a positive answer within 2-3 months," Ramesh said.
He stressed on improving technology to accelerate road construction in places like Assam where the working period is less than six months a year due to floods and landslides.
"In 2012-13, Assam expects to complete 1,500 kilometres of rural roads with an expenditure of Rs1,200 crores which is less than in the last fiscal. Heavy floods this year meant that the working season was cut drastically... We need to address the problem," Ramesh said.
The union minister added that he would raise the matter of reconstruction of roads under the PMGSY which are damaged due to reasons like floods.
"Assam government has requested that reconstruction should be taken up as a number of roads were badly damaged due to floods. Current PMGSY guidelines do not permit this but I will take up the matter with the PMO," Ramesh said.
He also supported Assam government's proposal for 150 days of work every year for labourers under MNREGA, in line with notified drought-hit states.
"Assam has asked for the same benefit as it is a flood-affected area. This is a reasonable proposal," Ramesh said.