A viable alternative which can ensure all-weather connectivity

The Mogul Road

‘About 800 trucks stranded on this side of Jawahar tunnel for past about one week had been allowed to move towards Jammu. However due to landslides the vehicles got stranded at Banihal, Ramban, Ramsu and other places’ (Greater Kashmir on April 05). And to facilitate ‘one-way-traffic’ as many or more trucks, carrying supplies, including essential commodities, destined to valley, one can imagine, would have got stranded in Jammu for as many days. 

The losses inflicted on Kashmir’s economy, business and industry are colossal. Add to it plight of the hapless and helpless people in the valley who have been made pathetically dependable on what is being fervently parroted as ‘life-line’ of Kashmir. Our survival hangs on the sustenance of this Jammu-Srinagar Highway. As if reduced to a torso we are crippled to a spot. This is not because there is no alternative to help us break the road enslavement. There certainly is, more feasible and less costly and ensuring all-weather connectivity. But in this part of the planet nature has been polluted by churlish politics and cussed attitude, typical of a vitiated mind. And, as a corollary, geography too has to play surrogate. 

The 288 km arduous trek from Srinagar to Jammu has become a perennial source of suffering for us. Our economic progress, including assertive identity, is being held hostage to it. Every time the J-S Highway is closed people in Kashmir are choked in isolation. This is not to mean that we underplay its importance. Roads are the basic imperatives of modern economies. They are the bedrocks on which business progress, industries grow and people are inter-connected. But alas, when nature offers better and all-weather connectivity, remaining obstinately fixated on the sole root sounds politically motivated? The Highway has been operational since Indian army landed in Srinagar, whereas the Mogul road was proposed in 1960 and the project started in 1969. The Highway guzzled billions of rupees since its opening, the Mogul road found authorities in Delhi uninterested, moving on snails pace with their hands glued to their necks. On the pretext of militancy, the work on the Mogul road project was stopped for fifteen years (from 1990 to 2005). The project was supposed to be thrown open for public in 2008 but deadline was not met. It was to be inaugurated in 2013 by former prime minister of India Manmohan Singh but again deadline missed. The historic road could not be thrown open for public. The most shocking of all is that unlike Srinagar- Jammu ‘ National Highway’, which is hundred times more prone to landslides and shooting stones, triggered by rains and snow, Mogul Road is yet to attain the status of a ‘ National Highway’. Persistently the state governments have been demanding the status and in equal measure the rulers in Delhi have been responding in prevarication and letting it stale in non-action. 

It is to be noted that against 288 km long S-J Highway, the Mogul road that connects Shopian in South Kashmir with Bafliaz, a town In Jammu’s Poonch district, stretches to 84 km length. Construction of a seven km long tunnel from Zaznar to Chathapani (at an altitude of 3000 meters), and slope stabilization in areas like Chatrian, Poshiana, Dangrian and Chatranallah would have made the 230 years old road all-weather corridor to Kashmir. Clearance to the state government’s proposal seeking ‘National Highway’ status would remove both the hurdles. Though the Highway status has been the long pending demand of the state but due to Delhi’s non-commitment no progress has been witnessed towards that end. The road remains open for traffic( for light vehicles) during summer only. Heavy snowfall at the tunnel site forces the closure of the road. For tunnel construction and slope stabilization the total cost incurred respectively will be Rs 1200 crore (maximum) and around Rs 250 crore. Compared to the whopping costs on the four-laning of S-J Highway that the Delhi has approved(and which was much needed), the amount is on the scale of a peanut. 

The four-laning ambitious project on its completion will reduce the distance from 288 km to 238 km and the duration of the journey too will be shortened. It will give relief to people but it cannot ensure all-weather surface connectivity owing its treacherous terrain, prone to landslides and shooting boulders. Another point, even if this Highway is open round the year, are not people of Poonch and Rajourie entitled to a road connection with valley? For how long they will have to make a detour around Jammu, Udhampore, Ramban, Banihal, Qazigund on a 300 km stretch to reach Srinagar when just a few hours’ journey will see them home in Srinagar. Precisely that too is the situation people of Chenab region are facing. Simthan road could connect people of Kishtwar and Doda via Islamabad(Anatnag) and relieve them of the hazards of the Highway. Vialoo tunnel could serve purpose of connecting Kashmir with Chenab valley. There is a long pending demand of people in Kargil for connecting the remote hill area to Sonnamarg(Kashmir) through a tunnel in Zojilla pass. 

More than difficult terrain and geographical restraints, it is political machinations that makes Kashmir limp on the sole Highway. The forces that put spokes in the all-weather connectivity wheel are paranoiac of this connect –Greater Kashmir. They look it through communal angle. But roads benefit all, irrespective of their political and ideological persuasions.