Not weather, political apathy makes Kashmir a ‘no-go zone’
The political apathy of the successive governments toward Srinagar-Jammu highway during the past 73 years not the inclement weather damaged the only road connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world, experts say.
They believe rather than blaming inclement weather all the time, a sincere effort by the political parties at the helm of affairs over the years could have saved the highway from its present dilapidated condition.
Environmentalist Dr A Majeed Kak said inclement weather could not be solely held responsible for the bad condition of the highway.
“It’s true that every year harsh winter plays a spoilsport. However, it is the lack of efforts of the administration that has resulted in the severe damage to the road over the years,” he said.
Kak said during the past 73 years, the successive governments did very little to address the problem of deteriorating condition of the road.
Due to snowfall and rains, a portion of the highway often gets swept away while many places along the road witness shooting stones and landslides.
However, more than inclement weather, the failure of the successive governments to work on the construction of the road has been the biggest drawback of its dilapidated condition.
Syed Hafiz, a local, said over the years political parties had only resorted to blame-game rather than putting their heads together to fix the condition of the road once for all.
“It has been 73 years and the condition of the road has hardly improved. At a time when other countries are building underground roads on high terrains, our politicians can’t even fix the existing road,” Hafiz said.
During the Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government in Jammu Kashmir, the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti raised the issue of widening of Srinagar-Jammu highway and the bottlenecks coming in the way on the Ramban-Banihal stretch with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), Nitin Gadkari.
Mehbooba had stressed on attaching national importance to the project as it was the only highway connecting Kashmir valley with rest of the world.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw open the 10.8 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel in April 2019, the fate of 8.5 km Banihal-Qazigund tunnel still hangs in the balance.
In 2017, IndiaSpend carried an analysis of J&K Police and Union Home Ministry data since 2004 and found out 46 percent more people had died in road accidents in Kashmir than in armed violence.
Most of these accidents occurred on the highway connecting Kashmir valley, Pir Panjal region and Chenab valley.
Last year, PDP senior leader Naeem Akhtar, after the end of their coalition government with the BJP, termed the 270 km road stretch nothing less than a death trap.
“The upgradation of the highway doesn’t make any sense unless the portion between Ramban and Banihal is fully tunneled,” he said. “There are modern solutions to repair the road, which the previous government projected to the Government of India but the PDP-led government at that time was informed that the project report in this is being reviewed and reworked.”
Akhtar said later the Governor’s administration failed to follow it up.
“With the result Kashmir is destined, perhaps, not to have an all-weather road and a decent highway that could connect the land-locked region with the rest of the world,” he said.
Similarly, in May last year National Conference (NC) General Secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar alleged that the Governor’s administration and Government of India failed to upkeep the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
“It is an embarrassment that even after 73 years of independence no headway has been made to connect Kashmir with the rest of world through an all-weather road. Even a drizzle of rain detaches the Valley with the rest of the world,” Sagar said. “The Government of India and the incumbent administration with all their men and machinery have miserably failed to upkeep the important stretch of road connecting Srinagar and Jammu.”
Meanwhile, Regional Officer Jammu Kashmir, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), Hemraj said the political turmoil in 2019 had been yet another obstacle to complete the construction project of the highway on time.
“It is not easy to carry on the work when there is uncertainty in the region. It is easy for politicians to announce the schemes but a completely different thing to implement it,” he said.