Students of Assembly of God Church School, Ranchi, plant saplings on NH-33 near Kokar on Thursday. (Prashant Mitra)
Call it Ranchi’s pothole farm.
Frustrated with empty promises of road repair, 150-odd residents of Kokar rustled up funds, bought a tractor-load of soil and sowed gram plants in water-filled craters along a 50-metre stretch of NH-33 in the capital on Thursday.
They reasoned that the ditches were an open invitation to accidents and the road construction department had not touched the plagued highway section in several months after some patchwork last monsoon.
“I have fallen in the craters twice in two weeks. Since these large holes remain filled with water, one fails to gauge the depth. I was lucky not to break a bone. Not everyone is,” said Ajay Agarwal, who actively took park in the citizens’ road repair campaign.
The NH-33 connects the state capital with important towns like Ramgarh and Hazaribagh. More than 25,000 vehicles ply on the Ranchi-Hazaribagh stretch on any given day. Not just regular commuters to Hotwar, but patients going to a private hospital are also dependent on this road.
Its significance notwithstanding, the artery is dotted with more than 30 craters, some of them almost knee-deep, making manoeuvring a vehicle quite a task. While four-wheelers still manage to negotiate the ditches without much damage, for two-wheelers, the stretch is a virtual nightmare even during the day.
“At least half a dozen bikers are thrown off their vehicles daily. Some escape with bruises, many sustain serious injuries,” said Sujata Kachhap, a Kokar homemaker-turned-activist-for-a-day. Last monsoon, a young man on a cycle had suffered a broken knee, she recalled.
Apart from local Kokar residents, 50-odd students of Assembly of God Church too joined the 20-minute campaign.
“Our school bus crosses this road every morning and the ride is bone-breaking. So, we joined the protest. To demand urgent repair of this stretch of NH-33,” said Ramesh Kumar, a seventh grader.
While painting potholes green with gram plants, the agitators also shouted slogans against road construction department’s NH division engineers. They claimed their repeated requests for urgent repair had fallen on deaf ears.
On January 24, The Telegraph had highlighted the poor condition of the highway near Kokar Chowk. Executive engineer (road construction) Rajiv Lochan had then promised to carry out necessary repairs — a word not kept.
Chief engineer (road construction) Ram Naresh Raman claimed maintenance of the highway had been transferred to NHAI a year ago. “I had urged NHAI engineers to look into the matter. I will remind them again,” he said, admitting the need for immediate repairs.
Will the unique campaign jolt the authorities out of their slumber?