|A crater (top) on NH-33 stares at vehicles near Tamar on Thursday and (above) workers employed by a sub-contractor plug potholes near Bundu with loose soil. (Prashant Mitra)
Bone-breaking. Nothing has perhaps better described the NH-33 journey from Ranchi to Jamshedpur in the past year.
The horror begins right after Namkum, on the outskirts of the capital, where eroded bitumen carpet shrinks the already single lane by half. Upon reaching Sidrol — where the foundation for four-laning of the highway was laid earlier this year — the artery disappears into giant potholes and loosened stone chips. An envelope of dust reduces visibility to add disgust to this picture of apathy. The rough ride continues till Taimara Valley, near Bundu, some 40 km from Ranchi.
But, the worst is yet to come.
The jittery journey gets really scary soon after Tamar, with half a dozen rickety and unprotected bridges dotting the highway till Chandil and beyond, not to forget the omnipresent ugly warts and haze of dust. Every time a heavy vehicle passes over the uneven surface of the bridge in Ulidih, one may easily mistake it for a quake. The experience is nothing different at the bridge in Kanchi or the one at Rangamati near Rargaon, both flaunting frail railings too.
Contrary to the speed thrill synonymous with highways, there is never a stretch on NH-33 on which a vehicle can accelerate freely. Overturned trailers, flipped trucks, defaced cars and last vestiges of bikes — perhaps unfortunate victims of ugly mishaps — turn the Ranchi-Jamshedpur road into a museum of misadventures.
Murari Lal, who works at a dhaba in Bundu, said two trucks rammed into each other on Wednesday night near Salgadih. “Potholes spring unpleasant surprises. In the past two-three months, at least half a dozen accidents have taken place on this road daily. In the name of maintenance, the warts are patched up with just loose sand or soil,” he claimed.
Sangharsh Singh, a heavy vehicle driver from Jamshedpur, said carrying consignments on NH-33 was no longer a profitable business. “You either grapple with flat tyres or busted axle and damaged clutch. Instead of three hours, it takes us more than five hours to reach Ranchi. Instead of 40 litres of diesel, we burn 70 litres per trip,” he rued, pointing to the wheel rim of his vehicle that cracked on Thursday.
Kasinath Pramanik, a para-teacher in Arki, said he and his child cheated death only recently. “We were on a bike. I lost balance on the loose stone chips near Salgadih. A truck coming from behind hit us. We are fortunate to be alive. Only my bike was damaged,” he heaved a sigh of relief.
However, for some, the crater-riddled road is a boon in disguise. More than dhabas, there are puncture repair shops along the highway. While these makeshift shops do brisk business, local villagers too make a few bucks by collecting the scattered stone chips for resale.
Sources in road construction claimed department secretary Rajbala Verma had summoned Ranchi-based NHAI officials on October 15 to know what was being done to improve the condition of the Ranchi-Jamshedpur highway.
Verma told The Telegraph that instructions had been given to NHAI officials to repair the Ranchi-Jamshedpur highway at the earliest. “They have promised to do so.”
Currently, the onus of major repair and maintenance lie with Madhucon Projects Limited, the agency entrusted with the Rs 1,479-crore four-laning work.
Sources maintained that the company had links with an influential politician and officials at the Delhi headquarters of NHAI were not in a position to mount pressure for prompt repair.
NHAI general manager Khushal Chand blamed the pathetic state of affairs on Phailin-borne torrential rain. “Madhucon is plugging potholes,” he said briefly.
In April 2011, Ranchi Expressway Limited, a special purpose vehicle of Madhucon, had signed a concession agreement with NHAI for the widening project under BOT-annuity basis, with a semi-annuity of Rs 133.50 crore. The agency was to complete the project by June 2015 and maintain the road for 15 years.
The project, which envisages widening of the stretch between Ranchi to Jamshedpur (near Mahulia), is yet to pick up pace.
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