Highway subsides

By Alok Gupta
Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

ON AUGUST 8, a stretch of National Highway (NH)-33 caved in due to an underground coal fire. The road connects Ranchi in Jharkhand with Bihar's capital, Patna. The subsided half-kilometre stretch is near Kujju in Ramgarh district of Jharkhand. Another such underground fire is inching close to the Bermo-Chandrapura-Dhanbad highway and is threatening the railway tracks running parallel to it.

Fire has been raging in the coalmine of the Central Coalfield Limited (CCL) for the past one decade and is spread on a three-kilometre stretch beneath the road. On August 20, the fire spread further to the traffic diversion route created to avoid the stretch. Jharkhand Governor K Sankaranarayanan pulled up the Ramgarh district administration and CCL for inaction and issued a show-cause notice to the deputy commissioner to explain why the fire was not doused in five years.

The district administration in turn blamed CCL that abandoned the mine three years ago. CCL was apprised of the fire threat to NH-33 at least seven times since July when cracks were first noticed. But there was no effort to curb the fire, said Arun Sinha, deputy commissioner of Ramgarh. It is sheer providence that no vehicle was passing when the road subsided, said Sinha. Villagers have erected barricades to prevent vehicles from falling into the large crater.

CCL swung into action after the governor asked it to furnish a detailed plan to douse the fire. "We are trying to construct a permanent road bypass," said R K Saha, chairperson-cum-managing director of CCL. He admitted that CCL action was delayed. The company has, meanwhile, started stowing sand to check the coalfire that threatens a highway and railway lines near Bermo in Bokaro district.

District administration officials say the sand filling process is going on at a slow pace. In January, CCL was told three truckloads of sand is hardly enough to check the fire, an official said.

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