KOCHI: An alarm has sounded as talks between striking contractors and the government reaching a blind alley and as rains continue to pound and disfigure the roads, commuting for the citizens has become a frustrating spell.
Minister for Public Works V K Ebrahim Kunju said road projects and repair works worth ` 10,000 crore were adversely affected because of the decision of the government contractors to boycott work and the National Green Tribunal’s decision to shut down quarries that operate without valid licence.
“There are very few quarries that possess the licence, and those without licence are not allowing them to function”, said the minister, “The current scenario is that we don’t even have enough metal to fill potholes. Of the 2,300 quarries, only about 100 have obtained licences”, he added.
He said the World Bank-funded Kerala State Transport Project was halted because of the unavailability of metal. Amid the varying complexities, The Kerala Government Contractors’ Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of various contractors’ groups, is boycotting tender processes and road projects demanding the settling of bills worth more than ` 2,500 crore. Apart from roads, construction of government buildings, bridges and irrigation projects has also come to a standstill since August 1. Ebrahim Kunju said the Finance Minister had cleared bills for two months amounting to around ` 400 crore.
However, Varghese Kannampally, president, Kerala Government Contractors’ Association, said the contractors would start work only if the government rolls back its decision to impose purchase tax on materials bought from unregistered dealers, and lay out a road map to settle the rest of the bills. The bills are pending since October. The department’s chief engineer, P K Satish, said on Saturday that the government had released ` 50,000 each to 176 assistant engineers and ` 1 crore each to 15 divisions for minor works and clear waterlogging on roads. No one will take up the work till the dues are cleared, said Kannampally and added that there was no justification in the PWD Minister expressing helplessness. If he is helpless, he should quit rather than cutting a sorry figure by staying in office, he said.
Kannampally said the government’s decision to levy tax on materials bought from unregistered dealers amounted to double taxation. Since we are already paying a compounded tax of 3% and to ask us pay the tax on materials bought from such dealers is not justice done, he said.
He said the committee was meeting the Chief Minister, Finance Minister and Lok Sabha member Jose K Mani on Sunday.
However, a PWD official said the government was facing a financial crisis and shoring up its kitty for Onam bonus, which will be released next month.
To repair a pothole, the damaged area should be cut vertically in the shape of a rectangle or square; the debris should be removed, and the road should be laid layer by layer and enforced. Only then can it withstand the heavy downpour of the monsoon, says Kannampally.