A vast portion of National Highway-33 in eastern India connecting Ranchi with Patna, the capitals of two neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Bihar respectively, caved-in near a place named Kuju in Ramgarh district of Jharkhand on 10 August 2009.
This caving in of the highway has been attributed to a fire that has been raging from the underground coal mines in the vicinity since early morning hours of Sunday (August 10). This happened on the stretch between Loha Gate and Kuju where instances of fire from unused or closed mines are believed to be frequent.
Reportedly, the area is rich in coalfields and was once under mining by Central Coal Fields Limited (CCI). Later, it was left abandoned, where some villagers did illegal mining and left the coal reserve exposed within the earth, which caught fire when the black diamond came in contact with air.
Consequent to the raging fire, the district administration and police officials have stopped all kind of vehicular traffic on the highway. "Early morning at four, a portion of National Highway-33 got caved in. We have blocked the highway so that nobody can inadvertently enter here. The district administration and police officials have cordoned off the area with red cord barring any traffic inflow," said B K Singh, General Manager, Central Coal Fields Limited (CCL).
The underground mine fire was so intense that it created a deep crater on the highway disrupting the traffic and causing panic among the people residing in the nearby villages. Now, the families from these villages have been asked to vacate their homes and move on to some safer place until the fire is completely doused off.
There are around 52 homes in the surrounding villages. "The situation is really worse. We are residing in this village for the past 30-40 years. CCI (Central Coal Fields Limited) was looking after it but they are unable to do anything. Even government can't do anything. We have been given two days to vacate the village," said Santosh Kumar, a resident of a village near Kuju.
The coal mine fire has spread to the entire underground area and the solid coal base within the earth has got reduced to ashes and now slowly cracks have started appearing on the surface of the earth.
The devastating mine-fire under National Highway-33 connecting Patna with Ranchi near Kuju in Jharkhand has increased the distance between the two capitals. Reports said that the crater formed on the Ranchi-Patna Highway further widened on Tuesday.
Another crater has appeared near the old one near Loha Gate in Kuju in Ramgarh district. The diameter of crater has increased from 15 to 20 feet. The other crater is 30 metre from the Highway and is smaller in size. It is feared that more crater would come up if the fire is not brought under control soon.
Now the routes taken by the vehicles are quite circuitous. They have to go through either Bokaro or Ghato. The smaller vehicles are, however, still going through the old route via a newly built diversion along side the subsided Highway stretch. Nobody can guess how long will it take for the normalization of traffic.
The underground fire is now taking calamitous proportion. It is now an uphill task for the Coal India Limited. Local people said that had the warning signals been timely addressed the situation would not have worsened to such an extent. "We are using chemicals, foams and water to control the intensity of underground fire. Once this is done we will have to go in for open cast mining to extinguish the fire completely, and take out coal and the area will be refilled with earth," said CIL Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Rajan Kumar Saha. He said that it would take at least three months to construct a diversion near Kuju. It will be done under the CCL community development porgramme. The diversion would be builtd by the National Highway Authority of India and the CCL would provide the money. Saha attributed the devastating underground fire to miscreants involved in illegal mining.
Coal is highly combustible and when it comes in contact with oxygen it forms carbon di oxide and carbon-monoxide besides generating a lot of heat. When the heat does not dissipate it accumulates and comes out in flames. He denies that warning signals in the form of smoke billowing out from the mine were not taken seriously. He said that the CCL had abandoned that mine. The smoke started coming out of the ground only just a few days ago and the CIL took immediate action, he claimed.
The district administration as well as the local people, on the other hand, claims that the smoke had been coming out from the mines for the last several months.