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NH-17: the road that simply disappeared two years ago

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ADDITIONAL BURDEN: A lorry driver fixing the punctured tube of his vehicle on National Highway-17 on the outskirts of Mangalore.
ADDITIONAL BURDEN: A lorry driver fixing the punctured tube of his vehicle on National Highway-17 on the outskirts of Mangalore.

Sudipto Mondal

Several puncture repair shops have come up along the highway

Lorries take four days to cover 500 km from Balegudi to Mangalore

Some vehicles have four to six flat tyres during the journey

Mangalore: The only happy faces one can see through the thick cloud of dust and smoke that hangs on National Highway 17 near Panambur here belong to the owners of puncture repair shops. “In a matter of two years, 13 such shops have come up along the two-kilometre stretch between the Pannambur Junction and Baikampady,” says Imtiaz Hussain (36), who has had a puncture repair shop inside the Indian Oil petrol outlet in Pannambur for the last five years.

The highway connects Panvel in Maharashtra to Edappalli in Kerala.

Most part of the highway that passes through Dakshina Kannada looks like a dry river bed; there are rocks and pieces of debris strewn across the road. In some places, the potholes on the road surface are as deep as two feet.

No wonder then that running a puncture repair shop is a lucrative business in these parts. Chanrda Shekhar (29), another puncture shop owner on the highway, says he vulcanises a minimum of 15 truck tyres a day and repair on tyres of other vehicles add up to twice that number. He charges Rs. 50 to vulcanise a truck tube and Rs. 30 for other vehicles: approximately Rs. 1500 a day.

Vincent Rebello (32), truck driver, was too annoyed to talk about the roads, initially. “Will it make any difference if you write about the condition of the road in your paper,” he said. Upon persuasion he said: “What is there to say…my truck consumes twice the quantity of diesel it should on these roads…I cannot go drive second gear.”

It was 8 p.m. on Thursday; it was raining heavily on the highway; with help from his cleaner, Nagendra. R. Naik (32), a truck owner-cum-driver, was struggling with a punctured wheel near Pannambur.

He was on his way to Mangalore city from Baleguddi, and this was his second puncture in half-an-hour. “I have four to six flat tyres on this 500-Km trip. I can not afford to spend Rs. 200 to Rs.300 on every trip just to fix punctures. So, I do it myself,” he says.

Mr. Naik says: “Earlier, the 500-Km trip from Balegudi in Maharashtra to Mangalore used to take two days and 120 litres of diesel.

Now, because of the horrible condition of the roads, it takes four days and 160 to180 litres of diesel. I don’t get anything extra from my clients.” By then, a small crowd had gathered and a curious passer-by stopped to ask what the discussion was about. When he learnt that it was about NH-17, he asked with a poker face, “NH 17? Where is that? That highway has not been seen in these parts for a long time. It vanished two years ago.”

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