The problems people in Jammu and Kashmir face due to frequent closures of the Srinagar-Jammu highway could be solved if present-day authorities come to appreciate the wisdom of Dogra rulers and their plans to keep the state’s two capitals connected throughout the year.
In 1912, Maharaja Pratap Singh had executed an agreement with Forbes and Forbes, a British company based in Karachi in undivided India, to connect Srinagar and Jammu through a 290-kilometer ropeway, with the document reflecting the ruler’s keenness to get the project completed in just four years. It gave the company a short 12 months to undertake and complete the survey in the Shivalik and the Pir Panjal ranges, and the Maharaja the right to cancel the agreement in case the company failed to complete the project within the stipulated time. It had been made incumbent on the firm to take care of environmental issues, and Forbes was required to pay for the damage caused during its survey in the forests. As per the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Maharaja would pay £100,000 as the state’s share in the project cost, and the rest of the expenditure was to be borne by the company. The Maharaja had even gone to the extent of fixing fares for proposed travelling categories (Rs 32 for first class, Rs 16 for second class and Rs 5 for third class, with the provision of a 25 per cent concession for government officials) most probably to demonstrate the project’s economic viability. But British rulers sabotaged the project for political reasons.
Pratap Singh, who had succeeded Ranbir Singh and ruled the state from 1885 to 1925, had conceived the ropeway in 1910 and wanted it as a gift for his subjects. Today, over a century later, when the Kashmir Valley has been made almost totally dependent on an undependable highway even for needs as basic as haakh-batta, rulers of the democratic ilk may at least mimic the autocrat’s good sense, if not his good will, and consider adapting his idea to keep the Valley on life-support during its increasingly-frequent episodes of multiple-organ failure.