SRINAGAR: The skewed bridge constructed over Jhelum river – between Presentation Convent School in Rajbagh and city center Lal Chowk – is an epitome of state government’s flawed planning, management and execution. After forty years of planning and rehashing the plan several times over, the government has put the areas on either side of the bridge at greater risk of flood and incurred losses to the exchequer.
The bridge, whose shelving has now become a public joke, stands testimony to J&K Government’s myopic vision and fire-fighter attitude planning and policy.
The bridge was first conceived as a motorable bridge in 1970 to ease traffic in the city, but the idea was dropped after stiff opposition by the Institution of Engineers. However, the NC-Congress coalition picked up the project again a few years ago, despite opposition from the civil society and People Democratic Party (PDP). Ironically, the PDP government which has been in power for the last three years allowed the construction go on.
But then a change of heart came about again – not before eight crores were spent in construction a heavy foundation for cars and buses to pass over – and the PDP-BJP coalition has now taken a U-turn. It now wants to place a foot bridge on top of piers built to support a motorable bridge. Four times less investment would have gone into the foundation of a footbridge.
It is not the wasted investment, however, that worries planners. The bridge enhances the floods risk and may fail to ease traffic in Srinagar. “The idea of this bridge was to connect Raj Bagh with the city centre. At the execution stage, it was released that it will not ease traffic, but will create more mess,” a retired engineer who was working on the project told Kashmir Reader.
“Then came the floods (in 2014) and the project was halted. Then there was the new government in place. By this time (when flood risk was realized), sub-structures were already built for a motorable bridge. Yet they changed it into foot bridge.”
He added, “In my opinion, it (the bridge) wasted crores and made the city more vulnerable to floods.”
Few months ago, engineers at the Kashmir Chaptern of Institution of Engineers have pitched for a motorable bridge, opining that a pedestrian bridge would lay to waste eight crore rupees.
Ironically, the meeting of the engineers was chaired by Er Muhammad Ashraf Fazili, chairman IEI-J&K, who in the beginning was against the idea and had voiced his opinion publically. Er Reyaz Ahmad Khan, honorary secretary, Er S M Akhtar, executive committee member, Er Mir Abdul Majid, executive committee member, Sartaj Singh, executive engineer I&FC, Mutayib Bashir, assistant executive engineer l&FC and Muhammad Aslam Zargar, assistant executive engineer FSC Division Narbal were present in the meeting.
Post September 2014 floods, various experts have said that the bridge will enhance floods. Then Jammu and Kashmir Project Construction Corporation (JKPCC), the J&K Government owned agency has decided to raise the level by two feet, which is regarded as a token measure to wave off the flood escalation debate.
“How does the raised level of the bridge matter? The embankments are already lower than the bidge. It only added to the cost of the project,” an engineer said.
JKPCC Managing Director, Dilip Thusu and Executive Director Nayeem Ahmad did not respond to repeated calls from this newspaper. Public works minister Naeem Akhtar’s phone was also switched off.