When it comes to maintenance of roads, Jharkhand is a repeat offender. And its recent offence involves NH-33 — the arterial link between Ranchi and Calcutta via Jamshedpur.
Traffic bottlenecks are routine on the 2km stretch from Rankini Mandir to Ghatshila, 45km from the steel city, with even a moderate monsoon transforming potholes into yawning craters, not to think of what incessant rain could have done.
On any given day, one may witness a serpentine queue of vehicles — mostly multi-axle commercial carriers and some long-distance buses and private cars. The standstill often continues for 12 harrowing hours if not more.
Sources said NH-33, particularly the Jamshedpur-Baharagora-Calcutta stretch, had not seen mandatory maintenance for at least three years. While there was no cosmetic cure for warts, the highway also saw no respite from regular load of heavy vehicles or scorching summers and maverick monsoons. The result is a 2km mishap magnet.
Since last Saturday, more than half a dozen horrible jam sessions have occurred between Galudih and Baharagora. Two critical patients being ferried to Calcutta and Cuttack in Odisha remained trapped in the snarl on July 30.
“My brother-in-law complained of chest pain and we were rushing him to Calcutta around 7am, but were caught in traffic. Had we had inkling of the condition of NH-33, we would have taken him to hospital by train,” said Sitaramdera resident Vivekanand Singh.
Burmamines resident Anila Sharma (40) suffered acute spinal chord injury. Husband Ramesh Sharma and a relative were taking her to Cuttack for treatment, but encountered a traffic bottleneck around 8.30am the same day. Both families managed to continue with their journey only after eight hours.
If patients are inconvenienced, it goes without saying businessmen and transporters are no exception either. “We have no choice but to wait. No one can be blamed for negotiating this dilapidated highway slowly. There are so many ups and downs,” said a truck driver.
Local MLA Ramdas Soren took personal initiative for a temporary solution. “I was informed about highway snarls on Sunday. I requested slag supply from Tata Steel to plug potholes and craters. We have started dumping slag from Monday,” he said.
Though commendable, the ugly face of the highway needs more than cosmetic cure and one-man crusade. The road construction department’s national highway division had started major repairing work on NH-33 a month ago. A corpus of Rs 7.5 crore was released for mending the 54km between Galudih and Baharagora by engaging Calcutta-based company, Adhunik Infrastructures Pvt. Ltd.
The contractor did mend a portion of the highway from the Baharagora end, but stopped work once a shower spell began earlier last month. “We had started work since June 25, but had to stop because of rain. But now, the condition of highway has worsened in some stretches,” an Adhunik official admitted.
Chief engineer of NH division Murari Bhagat said since the four-laning project was on anvil, the NHAI had stopped funding maintenance of NH-33. “We got Rs 7.5 crore from the state and NHAI for repairing the stretch between Galudih and Baharagora as the extent of damage was immense. There had been no maintenance for three years. The current spell of rain deteriorated the condition. But, we hope to undo the damage after monsoon,” he said.