Durgapur, Aug. 27: Nine people were killed today in Bengal in a bus accident on a road that symbolises the perils of drift or “patience” that springs eternal.
The bus overturned while the speeding driver tried to avoid a crater on National Highway 2. The potholes could not be repaired apparently because of the continuing rain — a familiar story in many parts of the country.
But what makes the bottleneck zone in Panagarh stand out is its solitary status as a two-lane stretch on a key highway that has four lanes elsewhere. The 3.2km-long ribbon could not be widened for a decade because the project is mired in land protests.
It cannot be concluded that a wider road would have averted the deaths but the tragedy brought into sharp focus the plight of commuters who have been at the receiving end for years. Those killed today were mostly commuters who use the highway to travel to the industrial towns of Asansol and Durgapur.
The Asansol-bound bus carrying 70 passengers from Mangalkot in Burdwan overtook a truck on the stretch on NH 2 but swerved to the left to avoid a pothole and rammed into a concrete pole.
The bus overturned on impact and nine commuters — eight men and a woman — died. Most were in their forties. As many as 50 passengers were injured, some of whom were stated to be critical.
The stretch in Panagarh is dotted with gaping potholes and residents said the condition had worsened in the aftermath of the monsoon. “The road has many craters. The highway authorities carried out patchwork, which washed away after a few spells of rain,” said Joydeb Laha, a trader.
Officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) said repairs were futile in the monsoon as the metal coating would be washed away.
But the congestion — around one lakh vehicles ply on the road every day — could have been minimised had the stretch been four-laned. Heavy vehicles, especially overloaded trucks, are forced to slow down on the bottleneck belt, because of which deadline-driven buses try to pull past them. Many passengers said the driver, who fled after the accident, was speeding.
Several attempts by the NHAI to widen the road or construct a bypass to reduce the congestion did not succeed. District officials said when the NH2 stretch was laid 10 years ago, the NHAI could not widen the road as traders with shops on two sides of the highway refused to give land.
Two years ago, the NHAI had mooted a bypass skirting the congested Panagarh town, for which it required 25.36 acres of mostly barren or single-crop land.
“The villagers are demanding a uniform price of Rs 1.2 crore per acre, apart from government jobs and contracts to supply raw materials for the bypass,” said a district official.
The Burdwan district administration had fixed prices ranging between Rs 1.04 crore and Rs 13 lakh per acre, depending on the proximity of the land from the highway and the nature of the plots. Several meetings with the villagers over fixing the price have drawn a blank.
The district administration had started distributing compensation cheques to the villagers. Most refused them, demanding higher prices. District officials today could not specify when they would be able to hand over the land.
NHAI sources said the plan for the bypass was ready and work could start whenever land was acquired.