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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Realignment of NH-44 is the best option

SILCHAR, Oct 10: Heavy downpour of the last 48 hours in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, consequential landslides at Sonapur and disruption in the movement of all sorts of vehicular traffic on National Highway-44 have again brought into focus the question of realignment of the highway. Hundreds of vehicles on either side of the landslide site near the highly active seismic zone, 100 km from here, has been hit with poor supply of essential commodities, besides causing inconvenience to the travelling passengers. It is to be noted that this highway is the lifeline of supply not only for Barak Valley but also for Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura.

Sonapur has been identified as a highly landslide prone zone by the Geological Survey of India. In view of this, the BRTF had earlier planned to construct an alternative route to bypass the troubled-area. According to the plan, it was decided to divert the highway upwards and take it through a bridge over Lubha River and then through tunnelling, ensure all weather-movement of vehicles, passengers as well as commercial.

After the survey and critical examination of the geophysical features of the area, the Ministry of Surface Transport, Shipping and Highway gave the nod to a 120 mt-long and eight mt wide tunnel at Sonapur without any realignment which was built at a cost of Rs 117 crore by Project Setuk of Border Road Organization. It was inaugurated by the then Union Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises and Union Minister for Defence in 2008 M M Raju.

Questions were raised in competent circles: Will the tunnel make the highway at Sonapur trouble free? Past records show that there have been mishaps on the disturbed Sonapur zone. A Mizoram State Transport Corporation bus and two loaded trucks coming from Shillong had a miraculous escape. Before the vehicles slided in slush and mud, the passengers and drivers managed to come out of the vehicles. Most tragic was the death of seven people travelling in a private passenger bus which, in torrential rains, skidded in the slush on the spot and rolled down the river Lubha. A series of landslides in the past and even in 2007 blocked the highway for a month.

Many factors like the rising bed of the river meandering along the zone, unstable land mass which is considerably sinking have been attributed as reasons for the landslides by experts. The tunnel covers 110 metre leaving 190 metres of the highway exposed to the vagaries of nature. Experts opine that the proposal of BRTF for realignment in consultation with the Border Road Research Institute and Geological Survey of India would be the best option. THE SENTINEL

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