Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The burning highway at Kujju (near Ramgarh)

As everyone knows, illegal coal mining is rampant in Jharkhand and is carried out openly with total complicity of govt. officials and politicians. The illegally mined coal is always transported on bicycles because, apparently, there is no law against it!

Coal being transported on bicycles at Chutupalu Ghat near Ramgarh

Here is a statement (published in The Telegraph, Jamshedpur edition, dated 06.01.10) made by the CMD of Central Coalfields Ltd. : “Each cycle carries 300 to 400 kg of illegally mined coal and there are an estimated 18,000 cycles carrying coal all over the state. It translates to 7,200 tonnes of illegal coal entering the markets and some sponge iron units everyday”.

See the quantum of coal in one bicycle!

Illegal mining often leads to collapse of the mined cavities and major underground fires. During mid-2009, a portion of the NH33 near Ramgarh suddenly caved in and massive plumes of smoke started emanating from the fissures. Investigations revealed a huge underground coal fire. Thereafter, crores of Rupees of taxpayers’ money was spent by various govt. agencies and the fire was claimed to have been put off. However, during my recent trip to Kanpur and back I saw smoke still coming out of the fissures in the ground near Kujju (see picture below).

Smoke coming out of the ground adjacent to the bypass at Kujju

As far as the NH33 is concerned, a ‘diversion’ of sorts has been made for small vehicles and heavy vehicles have to take a long detour. This diversion is about a km long and starts 15 km after Ramgarh (at a village called Kujju) when one is going towards Hazaribagh. It is completely unpaved and has some steep slopes. I have driven through this bypass several times over the last 6 months or so. Initially, it wasn’t too bad but is now becoming more treacherous because some heavy vehicles have also started using it (obviously, by bribing the police) and their wheels have cut deep furrows in the unpaved and narrow path making it more problematic for small vehicles. Erosion of the path has also deposited a thick layer of dust on the road which starts flying and creates visibility problems whenever any vehicle passes on this road.

Thick cloud of dust creates visibility problems. Accidents are common. But who gives a damn?

Because there was no elected government in Jharkhand for many months, many projects were on hold. Now that the people of Jharkhand have once again entrusted the ‘governance’ of this state to a convicted murderer, projects (including a new stretch of NH33 between Ramgarh and Hazaribagh away from the underground fire zone) should start soon because projects are one of the best ways to make money!

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