Kuthiran: A major accident on the Kuthiran bridge has forced the authorities to open one of the under-construction twin tunnels temporarily to ease a long-winding traffic snarl on a stretch of the national highway here in Kerala's Thrissur district. Though the tunnel in the mountainous terrain was closed after four hours, the construction company has lodged a complaint with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for opening the tunnel without taking any security precautions.
The police, on the other hand, had directed to open the tunnel towards the Thrissur side as the traffic along the highway came to a grinding halt for two hours following a head-on collision involving two trucks. A container lorry heading towards Palakkad rammed a goods lorry coming from the opposite direction in the middle of the bridge around 1.30 am on Friday. Under the impact of the collision both the trucks fell on either side of the roads, completely blocking the traffic on both sides of the highway.
As the vehicles lined up in serpentine queues for as far as 8 km, the Peechi police and locals immediately decided to open the tunnel by 3.35 am.
Normally, the traffic police ease traffic jam along Kuthiran by allowing vehicles to pass through a single lane of the tunnel. Since the mishap occurred at the iron bridge, the authorities could not find any alternative but to open the tunnel. Earlier, the tunnel was opened with due safety precautions during the August 2018 floods to facilitate the passage of emergency vehicles. But this time concern was raised over opening the tunnel without the presence of any technical expert.
What is the risk
Opening the Kuthiran road tunnel for traffic has pointed to a major safety lapse. As the entrance of the tunnel is prone to cave-ins, the security wing has cautioned against opening the road without removing the soil and strengthening the walls. Chances of more cave-ins would be high owing to the impact of the movement of heavy vehicles. In case of any catastrophe, neither the police nor the construction firm has the mechanism to tackle the situation. No certificate has been issued validating the completion of the tunnel either.
The uncertainty prevailing over Kuthiran tunnel still lingers as the stakeholders - the NHAI, the construction company and the state government - are seemingly in no hurry to open the tunnel for traffic.
Here’s a look at the present status of the tunnel.
Tunnel yet to be ready
The construction of the tunnel is getting delayed indefinitely. The officials are not giving a tentative date as to when the work would get over. The company has cited paucity of funds to finish the work. If landslips occur, it has to clear debris at the mouth of the tunnel for which the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is yet to give its nod.
Why sanction is delayed
Authorities have not submitted the application with relevant data nor have the state government raised the issue with due seriousness with the Union ministry. Permission can be given only after a special team from the Centre conducts an inspection. This is just one among the hundreds of applications pending before the central ministry.
How to expedite steps
The state government should take concrete measures to hold an urgent meeting involving the Forest Department, the NHAI and the Union Surface Transport Ministry.
It should cancel the agreement with the present company and hand over the job to a new firm with a clause that the latter should clear the pending dues with the previous company. There are reports that the top brass with NHAI is taking special interest to avoid blacklisting the company engaged in road construction. This explains why no action has been taken against the firm even after the construction activities have been stalled for six months.
State Transport Minister should apprise the Union Minister for Surface Transport of the situation and seek a time-bound action to sort out the matter.
A well-crafted environment impact study is also the need of the hour. Stipulations for planting trees instead of releasing forest land should be incorporated. Sadly, no machinery has so far taken any initiative to this effect.