It’s a called the lifeline of Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district and with a reason.
The national highway-33 is giving “life” to children ahead of time as expectant mothers are giving birth on way to health centres, shaken to the core by the bone-rattling journey through this road pockmarked by potholes, some as big as ponds.
The national highway cuts through the state, starting at Barhi on the border with Bihar till it enters West Bengal at Baharagora, the last point on the map in Jharkhand.
While the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has completed four-laning of the road in most districts, the incomplete 100-km stretch from Jamshedpur to Baharagora has turned into the “highway to hell”, as people in the district describe the road.
The stretch has remained unrepaired since Jharkhand’s creation in 2000, sources said.
Two HT correspondents undertook a journey on a motorbike through the road from Ghatsila to Baharagora, a distance of around 65 km.
What emerged are horror stories to fill HT’s own motorcycle diaries.
On March 15, Somabari Devi, 30, from Dumaria block delivered half-way to the sub-division hospital at Ghatsila.
“I couldn’t bear the pain. The sahiya (health worker) helped me deliver in the van,” she said at the hospital.
Health officials in Ghatsila sub-division -- through which a major part of the NH passes -- said that at least two cases of mothers delivering on the road are reported every month.
Ramchandra Soren, medical officer of Ghatsila sub-division hospital told HT that most mothers deliver on the way unable to bear the excruciating pain of travelling on the dilapidated NH-33.
“Since January there have been four cases. Ghatsila hospital is the only hope for safe institutional delivery for mothers in seven blocks. They risk everything to reach us by the highway,” said Soren.
The ‘sahiyas’ of the health workers are given an incentive of `200 for every mother they bring in for institutional delivery.
The government has also started a project called ‘Mamta Vahan’ which brings expectant mothers for health centres for delivery.
But in places where the government vehicles are not available, expectant mothers are brought on private four-wheelers and sometimes even on auto-rickshaws and motorbikes. “The NH-33 is a nightmare for any patient, leave alone mothers who are in labour pain,” said Binay Tiwary, medical officer at the Dumaria primary health centre.
Doctors working in health centers across the sub-division said that in many cases they referred expecting mothers to hospitals in neighbouring states of West Bengal or Odisha through village roads which are better off than the highway. East Singhbhum has one of the better health indicators in the state with maternal mortality rate lower than the state average, according to the annual health survey 2012-13.
Also, 30% women give birth at home in the district compared to 54% in the state.
Child specialist Bhogan Hembrom warned, “It is not long before deaths due to delivery on roads start getting reported. It is very risky for mothers and newborns on the dusty road. Chances of survival of the new-born are threatened.” CM Raghubar Das, pilloried by the Opposition over the poor state of NH-33, has blamed the previous government but promised to repair the road very soon. “Our previous government seems to have left this work for us. We will complete the project,” Das said in the assembly recently. Das assured that patch work on the highway will begin by next month.