National Highway 216 connects Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand, before continuing into Uttar Pradesh. Artery to a heavily industrial belt, it is one of the country’s vital thoroughfares. In the district of Raigarh, however, this highway disintegrates into a dirt track. Birthed at an exorbitant Rs. 9 crore, it also holds the dubious distinction of being one of the planet’s most expensive dirt tracks.
The problem started in May of 2012 with the expansion of the adjoining Kelo Dam. Formerly a water source to neighbouring farmers, it was decided that this dam be enlarged to service, in addition, the area’s growing power companies. As the new reservoir swelled up over the original highway, an alternate route skirting its basin was carved out of an adjacent reserved forest. 5 km in length, this treacherous stretch of road has until now claimed the lives of 7 and various limbs of 3–4 others.
Herself a resident of the region, Community Correspondent and author of today’s video, Savitha Rath, discussed this path of peril with us:
“The current highway endangers anyone who steps out onto it. It was carved out of the base of a hill running alongside Kelo dam. On one side is water, and on the other jagged rock. The only thing that’s certain on either side is a deadly fall. As if this wasn’t enough, the road itself is pitted with huge holes.”
“It was originally meant to be a 4-lane street but it can accommodate, at best, 2 lanes. Out of these, 1 is always taken up by trucks transporting heavy goods. The people who fall victim to this murderous road are always the poor. They are normally the young bread-winning members of families, who return from work after dusk. There are no lights on this stretch of highway. Even during the day visibility is poor due to all the dust, at night it is pitch black.”
“The hill from which the road was carved is also collapsing now that its base is destroyed. It will capsize entirely in the monsoon. But nobody accepts responsibility, and none of the families who lost their wage-earners have been recompensed in the slightest. It was the government and the rich industrialists who created this death-trap, but it is the poor who pay for it. The road connects four Adivasi blocks. Ambulances use it to go to district hospitals, children need it to attend school. I, myself, go down this route every day. All we want is compensation for the lives already lost and an assurance that no more will be, it’s not very much.”
Lara A. Chandni