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HP: Unabated Illegal Mining Blamed for Collapse of Railway Bridge in Kangra

Blame game on as rail authorities claim they had repeatedly complained to Punjab and HP governments on damage to the 90-year-old bridge due to illegal mining. Govts say the bridge was old.
railway bridge kangra himachal

Image Courtesy: ANI

New Delhi: Amid heavy rains, the 800-metre-long railway bridge over the Chakki rivulet on the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in Kangra district collapsed on the morning of August 20. A flash flood in the Chakki rivulet washed away the weakened pillar of the bridge, say reports.

The 90-year-old railway bridge was weakened following illegal mining in the riverbed. The railway authorities had repeatedly complained regarding the damage being caused to the bridge due to illegal mining.

The issue of illegal mining has also come to light in several districts of Himachal Pradesh -- mainly Una, Kangra and Mandi.

Last month, a pillar of the bridge developed cracks after which train services were suspended. Now the pillar has been washed away. Taking stock of the situation, a meeting has been scheduled between Himachal Chief Secretary RD Dhiman and Northern Railway officials on August 26 to discuss the early restoration of the link, according to a report in The Tribune.

Blame Game 

Built in 1928 by the British, a portion of the bridge was swept away on August 20 after being damaged in a flash flood following heavy rain.

According to The Tribune’s report, the Kangra, Pathankot and railway authorities have been blaming each other for the incident. Railway officials claimed that the bridge was damaged due to illegal mining and that their “repeated reminders to the Punjab and Himachal governments went unheeded”. 

The district administrations of Kangra and Pathankot, however, maintained that the bridge was “old and the railways had failed to either replace it or carry out timely repairs”.

The narrow gauge line connected Jogindernagar in Himachal with Pathankot in Punjab. The Chakki rivulet passes through Punjab and Himachal and brings in huge amounts of gravel during monsoon, which is exploited legally and illegally in both states. About 100 stone crushers are located on the riverbed itself.

According to reports, about a month ago, one pillar of the railway bridge had developed cracks. The railway authorities had planned repairs, but the pillar was washed away before that could be done.

As reported in The Tribune, Kangra Deputy Commissioner Nipun Jindal said a magisterial inquiry had already been ordered. “The role of various government departments of Punjab and Himachal in taking measures to protect the bridge will be ascertained, besides finding out if the railways carried out the required repairs on time,” said Jindal.

Pathankot Deputy Commissioner Harbir Singh was also reported to be saying that no mining was taking place within 1 km upstream and downstream of the railway bridge. “About eight years ago when the rail bridge was damaged, the railway authorities constructed a platform under the bridge to save it. The NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) had asked the railways to break the platform as it was diverting the entire water flow towards one side. The diversion of 70,000 cusecs towards one pillar can be one of the reasons behind the bridge’s collapse,” he said.

A Lifeline to Hundreds of Villages

With this, the narrow-gauge train service between Pathankot and Jogindernagar will remain suspended till a new pillar of the bridge is constructed. Daily seven trains used to run between Pathankot and Jogindernagar on the narrow gauge rail line constructed and commissioned by the British in 1928.

The rail line is the lifeline for hundreds of villages located in the Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary, where there are no roads or bus services. The people of these villages used the trains to connect to the district headquarters in Kangra.

Meanwhile, with most of the rivers in spate in Kangra district, many roads have been blocked and damage to public and private infrastructure has been reported.

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