Gurez: As approval for the longest tunnel in Kashmir to the Gurez valley remains pending with the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH), local authorities have started exploring two alternative routes, in case the project does not get through.
Official sources told Kashmir Reader that a preliminary project report (PPR) of a smaller length tunnel, along with a new road, has been prepared and submitted to the government.
Member of Legislative Assembly from Gurez, Nazir Ahmad Khan Gurezi, confirmed to Kashmir Reader that two alternative routes are under consideration to make the valley accessible “round the year”. “However, the proposals are in their initial stage,” he added.
Gurez, a virgin valley about 123 km north of Srinagar, is situated at a height of almost 8,000 ft above sea level, south of Gilgit-Baltistan. It remains cut off from Kashmir valley for almost six months a year due to heavy snowfall during winter, which causes life to slow to a standstill in the region. Only helicopter services are run to ferry emergency passengers to and from Gurez during this period, including officials of the government.
“The situation is such that even being a lawmaker I cannot visit my constituency from late November to early May,” Gurezi said. “And when I come here (using a chopper), I am stuck in one place due to the huge amount of snow, which makes it very hard to visit interior areas.”
With a population of almost 38,000, who mostly speak Shina, Urdu and Kashmiri, the construction of an all-weather tunnel has been a persistent demand here for some time. “It is a tough life during winters in Gurez,” said small-time businessman Ghulam Mohammad who annually moves to Bandipora in winter. Bandipora is almost 86 km from the Gurez administrative headquarters.
Two years ago, officials apprised of the issue said that the Border Roads Organisation’s BEACON project had been asked to submit a PPR of the tunnel by the Government of India (GoI). BEACON is responsible for the maintenance of the hilly road connecting Kashmir valley to Gurez.
“The road-constructing agency submitted a PPR for a 22-km tunnel costing almost Rs 22,000 crore to MORTH,” one official revealed. “But there has been no positive response.”
“If constructed,” he added, “the Gurez valley shall be connected to the rest of Kashmir for almost 10 months a year.”
Hopeful of getting MORTH approval for “such a huge project”, Gurezi told Kashmir Reader. “I’m meeting (the union) Defence Minister and the (union Defence) secretary (with a proposal) to declare this road a strategic one. If approved, we will definitely get funding from MORTH,” he said.
However, officials revealed that a new PPR of Rs 440 crore has been prepared, which suggests a tunnel of about 3 km and a new road of 24 km. “This PPR will be considered to make Gurez accessible for the ‘maximum period of time’, if the 22-km tunnel is not approved,” he informed.
The tunnel, the PPR shows, will cost Rs 340 crore, and the proposed new road will cost almost Rs 100 crore. “The construction will happen in forest land,” Kashmir Reader was told.
“The current road runs along the ridge (of the mountains), and the PPR has suggested that the new road shall run at a lower contour,” the official said. “If the PPR is approved, then the distance between Bandipora and Gurez will be cut by almost 24 km.”
Currently, it takes four to five hours to reach Gurez from Srinagar.
Aiming to explore Gurez as a tourist destination, Nazir Gurezi informed that he had asked for another PPR for a second alternative route from Bandipora to Gurez. “The road will start from Bandipora and reach Gurez through Kisar,” he said. “It will only be a 42-km drive to Gurez (from Bandipora).”
Kisar is an unexplored meadow which houses a lake and a waterfall as well. “It is an almost Rs 40 crore (road) project, and I am seeking funding from the GoI under the Central Roads Funds,” he said.
Gurezi added that the Bandipora-Kisar road will help reveal new tourist destinations in the valley.
“There is huge scope for snow skiing and other adventure tourism, and for that to happen, this project is important,” he said.
An official said that the proposal has great scope to get funds under eco-tourism. “Kisar can be declared a new tourist village but what it needs is access,” he said.