Srinagar: When the state government submitted a proposal to Government of India in 2009-10 for restarting inland water transport, the lost title of ‘Venice of the East’ seemed to be coming back to Srinagar.
Nearly eight years have elapsed but the state government continues to await New Delhi’s endorsement to the detailed project report (DPR) that the state submitted for starting inland water transport from Chattabal in Srinagar to Pampore in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
“The PHE and I&FC departments had prepared the DPR at an estimated cost of Rs 323.26 crore in the year 2009-10. It was submitted to Government of India but the approval is awaited,” said deputy chief minister Dr Nirmal Singh while replying to a question by an MLA in the state assembly, presently in its budget session.
Due to “persistent public demand,” he said, a trial run was made through the proposed corridor in 2012-13 monitored by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. “A go-ahead was given for staring inland water transport activity,” said Singh, who is also the minister in charge of housing and urban development.
Some gates were also identified along river Jehlum to serve as boarding and de-boarding stations.
“The inland water transport facility was outsourced and some agencies launched motor boats of different capacity in the River Jhelum. A tariff from station to station was fixed by the competent authority and the activity received overwhelming response from locals and tourists. The activity continued till September 2014, when the whole infrastructure was damaged and the work came to a halt,” Singh said.
Inland water transport in Kashmir, which used to be the principal means of navigation in the Valley in the not-too-distant past, had won Srinagar a comparison to the Italian city of Venice.
Traditionally, the water transport system was from Khanabal in Anantnag to Khadanyar in Baramulla district. The 170-km stretch was navigated in wooden boats, locally known as ‘Doongas’ and ‘Bahachs’.
In 2007, Professor Saifuddin Soz, when he was India’s water resources minister, had unveiled a comprehensive plan for restoration of the erstwhile water corridor. “Revival of navigation in the Jhelum would facilitate us to understand our cultural moorings in a better way. History bears testimony to the fact that all our civilisations came up on Jhelum banks. It would be a major tourist attraction and a boost to our tourism industry,” Soz had said. A Japanese company was “willing to help the government in accomplishing the landmark project,” he had informed.
Soz had also stated that a sub-committee on the Indus Water Transport Treaty had recommended restoration of navigation in the Jhelum in 1972.
“However, the project could not be completed because of Pakistani objections to the Wullar barrage in north Kashmir,” he had said.
Deputy CM Nirmal Singh also said that the housing and urban development department has proposed a river transport in Srinagar under the Smart City Proposal (SCP).
“A draft report has been prepared by SMC (Srinagar Municipal Corporation) through M/s Voyants Consultant in public participation. Feedback is awaited from the line departments,” Singh said.
The Srinagar Smart City Proposal has recommended water transport on the Jhelum from Zero Bridge in Raj Bagh to Safakadal.