March 25:Believe it or not but huge populace of three most backward districts of the country Doda, Ramban and Kishtwar has lost all hopes of either Central or the state government taking the sinking of roads seriously and addressing the same on urgent basis.
Roads in entire erstwhile District Doda are in shambles yet neither has the state government ever bothered to inquire into this disastrous scenario nor has the local populace alongwith the leaders of various political parties ever gathered to rise in protest against this dismal state of affairs. National Highway 1A passes through Ramban district while the one connecting Doda and Kishtwar districts with rest of the world is National Highway 1B.
National Highway 1A which connects Kashmir valley with rest of the world is also a death trap but being critically important, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) works overnight to keep the road open but when it comes to National Highway 1B, BRO prefers delinquency. More than BRO, it is the state government and moreso Deputy Commissioners of these three districts have failed to take both BRO as well as Public Works Department (PWD) to task for not taking effective corrective measures.
The three Deputy Commissioners (DCs) have preferred silence and kept themselves confined to issuing handouts mentioning opening and closing of roads. Whether it rains or not, the NH-1B is a death trap and if care is not taken, one can get buried deep under the debris without any chance of getting noticed till the time machines are not pressed into service.
A heavy truck got buried under the debris near Korra Pani on the Doda-Batote road and it took more than 12 hours of grilling exercise by BRO men and state machinery to restore the highway. The highway was restored but boulders and landslides on the National Highway-1B continue. They halt for few hours and then, the traffic police department flashes the news of highway again having got closed for traffic. If an inquiry is ordered, those made incharge would hasten to use nomenclature of National Highway with Jammu-Doda-Kishtwar highway or NH-1A upto Banihal tunnel.
Instead of taking serious corrective measures, state government has shuttled between BRO and state government’s own Public Works Department (PWD). The political executive has taken decisions in haste and destroyed the entire NH-1B. The 110 kilometer stretch of Batote-Doda- Kishtwar road was handed over to the PWD department by 35 Border Roads Task Force of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) following centre’s order after a request by the J&K Government.
A notification was issued on July 2, 2014, directing the Border Roads organisation (BRO) to hand over the maintenance and development of the Batote-Kishtwar highway to the Public Works Department (PWD) by December 31, 2014. The formal handing and taking over was done on January 9.
This was done to address the continuous tussle between the PWD department and BRO when it would come to clearing the blockade of the highway. the tussle would most of the time lead to the delay and hampering of the road clearance operation. The government had then stated that the transition has ended the confusion, continuing for the past many months over the responsibility of its (NH-1A and 1B) maintenance. BRO had taken over the responsibility from PWD in 1992.
However, this arrangement was short-lived. Once the NC-Congress coalition government went out of office, the new BJP government in the centre decided to do away with this arrangement. Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways handed over the maintenance of Batote-Doda-Kishtwar National Highway 1B, to the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL). The corporation refused to take over this maintenance project from the PWD.
Accordingly, by way of a proper notification this National Highway was handed over to the Roads and Buildings (R&B) Department of the State Government with the mention that from January 2015 onwards all aspects vis-à-vis maintenance of this artery would be taken care of by the J&K Government. However, within four months, the Union Road Transport and Highways Ministry again changed its mind and by way of formal order transferred this highway to newly floated National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), fully owned by Union Ministry.
But NHIDCL didn’t formally take over this National Highway from the state government and instead insisted that R&B Department should look after its maintenance on the ground that newly floated Corporation would take some time for having its office and other paraphernalia in J&K.
At that time, it was officially conveyed by the authorities of NHIDCL that it would pay the amount to the R&B Department to be incurred on the maintenance of Batote-Doda-Kishtwar National Highway. But this promise has not been kept till date despite the fact that R&B Department has incurred around Rs 8 crore for the maintenance of this National Highway. NHIDCL did not release even a single penny despite repeated reminders.
Within four months that after the road was handed over to National Highway Infrastructure Development Ltd (NHIDL), state government requested union ministry to hand the road back to BRO while stating that NHIDL is not interest in working on the project. Earlier, in July 2014, BRO, on the direction of GoI, had handed it over to state Road and Building (R&B) department. The formal handing and taking over was done on January 9, 2015. However, in May 2015, Union Government handed over the project to NHIDCL.
State took over the project from NHIDCL after corporation failed to respond to repeated requests of the state government to take over upkeep and maintenance of the National Higwhay-1B. The government had then stated that the decision of giving these roads back to delinquent BRO was taken in view of frequent blockage of the highway as the road had become highly landslides prone due to sinking and caving in of long stretches.
Sources said that the state Government has already invited the Expression of Interests (EoI) for work on the proposed alternate route to Chenab Valley districts of Doda and Kishtwar. The then Minister for PWD Syed Altaf Bukhari had said that despite poor record of BRO in handling already sanctioned projects like Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri highway project, they had no other options since PWD department was short of the machinery required to work on hilly roads.
An official of PWD department told NEWSPOINT BUREAU that responsibility of maintenance of the road was earlier entrusted upon NHIDCL-a wing of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) since NHIDCL is a new company and it lacks experience of working in the mountainous areas and is short of the equipment and machinery, so the project is being handed over to the BEACON. He further said that NHIDCL will be engaged for the repair work with support from BEACON.
About the proposed alternate Jammu-Doda-Kishtwar road via Sudhmahadev-Marmat area, the official said that the project is in the DPR stage. “We have invited tenders from the companies of international repute. Once they show interest and discuss the formalities including cost estimates, we will send the proposal to the Union Government for approval”, he added.
Even as the frequent landslides on the roads have already claimed about a dozen of lives, the situation that is turning grave with every passing day is yet to attract attention of the state government. Pertinently, Batote-Kishtwar highway remained closed for vehicular movement for at least 14 days in year 2013. While earthquakes and tremors followed by heavy snowfall and incessant rains this winter have added to their miseries, the residents are fret over the indifferent attitude of the government that has failed to respond.
People here said that landslides and shooting stones were result of recent earthquakes, which the government laughed at by not even appointing a geological team to find out extent of damage caused to the land in erstwhile District Doda. “Incessant rains and snowfall is not new for this mountainous region. But this year landslides and sinking of land have become order of day leading to reasonable apprehension. Earthquakes have caused serious damage across erstwhile District Doda,” said an official of PWD department.