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Kishtwar Highway Road to Nightmare – Rajan Gandhi

Landslide at Kuligarh

Written By Rajan Gandhi :

What is undoubtedly right of every citizen of India- electricity, hospital and roads , but NH 1B has turned out to be nemesis for agencies maintaining it and nightmare for people of Chenab Valley namely Doda , Kishtwar and Bhaderwah with every passing day . It reflects a sad sorry state of affairs both on the part of Central and State Governments that even after  70 years of independence it is not able to provide all weather road connectivity to the population of  more than 5 lakh people . The daily hardships of the people can be gauged from the fact that there is no week in the entire year when this highway is not on the front pages of local newspapers but the hapless local population  have no option but to risk their lives every now and then as they don’t have any option except using this highway.
The root cause of the problem is believed to be the 15-km Baglihar dam, which is threatening the existence of the area. Construction on the 900-mega watt Baglihar hydroelectric project near Chanderkote area of Ramban district was started in 1999. The first phase of 450 MW was commissioned in October 2008 by the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Before the construction of the project, no proper geological survey was done and it is alleged a report to cover up the fault was prepared after start of the project.Ever since the project has commissioned, climatic conditions in the area have changed which resulted in  frequent landslides and sinking of land in Doda district on both the sides of the dam which is allegedly  due to the stagnant water. When this water enters the loose soil, the area starts to sink resulting in frequent landslides. This is happening on ground and it will continue till water remains stagnant. Cracks are developing in the higher reaches as well. Incessant rain in the recent past aggravated the situation. In February 2009 itself , a huge landslide occurred at Assar in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir state. The slide triggered after the reservoir level of the Baglihar dam increased from initial water level of 850 m to 870 m. The impounding of reservoir water created high angle scarps at number of fossil slide sites on either side of the river within the reservoir area. One such scarp (about 250 m long) at Assar caused a huge landslide washing out about 150 m road stretch. Over saturation of the slope forming material, weak rocks and high absorption and swelling nature of the soil, high slope angle and toe cutting by the water are the main reasons that triggered this slide. The geological experts have warned of extensive damage to the area due to the stagnant water of reservoir.Landslides are occurring frequently on both sides of the reservoir and the only road link of Doda and Kishtwa-Batote-Doda-Kishtwar National Highway has suffered extensive damage. Following reports by the Geological experts that Batote-Kishtwar Highway is sinking and its most part is likely to sink in the next few years,the Government of India has given go ahead to Jammu and Kashmir Government for construction of new National Highway from Batote to Kishtwar via Chenani-Sudh Mahadev-Khelani.The re-alignment of Batote-Kishtwar National Highway that connects the two districts of Doda and Kishtwar with rest of the country has been approved.The new Highway cost is approximately Rs 1000 crores and the cost of the construction will be borne by the Government of India. However, the DPR(Detailed Project Report) for the new alignment will be prepared by the R&B Department of state for early start of the work. The road length will be around 80 kilometers, almost similar to present stretch of the Highway.The construction of new Highway will take at least four years. A 2.5 kilometers tunnel will be constructed at Sudh Mahadev to make the Highway all weather road. The State Government is supposed to set the process into motion for inviting tenders for preparation of Detailed Project Report(DPR) of the new alignment of the Highway on war footing as the the Centre has sought urgently from the State in view of frequently deteriorating condition of existing stretch of the Batote-Kishtwar Highway.

Following worsening condition of existing Batote-Kishtwar highway where the Highway is sinking at least at 25 points and the road can submerge at various places.However, the State Government has projected before the Centre that it wants  to use existing highway as link road with repair work if it survives all the odds.Therefore, the State Government has requested the Centre to ensure maintenance of the Highway to best possible extent for smooth movement of traffic till the alternative all weather connectivity of the road is provided. It will require urgent repair works on war footing to save the sinking road and to make it fit for traffic before the Monsoon. Though the State Government took up the deteriorating condition of the Highway with the Central Government and apprised it about problems faced by the people of Doda, Bhaderwah and Kishtwar districts who have to spend several extra hours during movement on the road and although Batote-Kishtwar National Highway1B has remained death trap for thousands of commuters, its full restoration as well as alternate highway to the twin mountainous districts of Doda and Kishtwar is unlikely to become reality in near future for want of whopping funds and lengthy technicalities. The non-seriousness towards this vital link can be gauged from the fact that National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) has yet not conducted safety audit of the existing stretch and is keeping only meager funds at the disposal of the Roads and Buildings Department of J&K Government for its regular maintenance.This road link for Doda and Kishtwar districts was being maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) till December 2014 but owing to repeated concerns from different quarters over slackness of this Central Government body in proper maintenance of the National Highway 1B, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways decided to change the maintenance agency.Thus National Highway was handed over to the Roads and Buildings (R&B) Department of the State Government. However, within four months, the Union Road Transport and Highways Ministry again changed its mind and by way of a formal notification dated March 20, 2015 transferred this highway to newly floated National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, which is a fully owned company of the Union Ministry.Instead of looking after the maintenance and development aspect of this highway.But  NHIDCL within few months of issuance of notification by the Union Ministry, approached the R&B Department of J&K Government with the request to look after the restoration work of 184 kilometer stretch on its behalf. NHIDCL has yet not shown any seriousness towards this vital National Highway,as it has released only Rs 3.01 crore to R&B Department that too for ordinary repairs of the road, which otherwise is grossly inadequate for the task and keeping in view the urgent need to carry out maintenance of this highway the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had also released Rs 5 crore in 2015 but the same could not bring much needed improvement on ground as for such a lengthy highway Rs 8 crore is a very meager amount.The NHIDCL’s non-seriousness can further be gauged from the fact that it has not conducted even the safety audit of Batote-Kishtwar National Highway which  is mandatory to make assessment about requirement of funds for maintenance.Due to the failure of NHIDCL the R&B Department is also unable to point out the number of black-spots-the areas which are most vulnerable to the tragic road accidents. Notwithstanding the fact that hundreds of accidents are taking place every year in Doda and Kishtwar districts particularly on Batote-Kishtwar National Highway, the Government doesn’t consider this as most accident prone road in the State. This indicates that on one side there are no funds for full restoration of highway and on the other side even DPR for the alternate highway is yet to be prepared.
This whole grim situation is further complicated by the lack of hospital facilities on the highway and non availability of specialized doctors to look after the accident victims.These hospitals are facing acute shortage of blood bank and necessary drugs and  round the clock presence of additional ambulances.With local MP Dr Jatindra Singh as PMO, State Cabinet Health Minister Bali Bhagat, MoS Sunil Sharma as Transport Minister, its high time both Central and State Government understand the gravity of woes of public before it’s too late and situation takes an ugly turn resulting in  a regional agitation. This highway requires immediate attention to ensure the path of progress, infrastructure, tourism, industrialization without which all talks on these issues are only lip service without even an iota of reality.
“Nothing is predestined. The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.”

This content is copyrighted to Mr Rajan Gandhi & originally posted on Daily Excelsior

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