‘It seems like a dream,’ say Border Valley residents
BANDIPORA: Despite living in extremely harsh weather conditions, there is some relief for the residents of Border Valley in Gurez in North Kashmir’s Bandipora this winter as the internal roads are open, keeping them connected with the main station, Dawar.
For some residents, the situation is almost unbelievable. “It seems like a dream that, despite heavy snowfall, roads are open up to Chakwali, the last village in Tulail, the steepest road of all, almost 100 kilometres from the main station, Dawar,” said a visibly jubilant Shafeeq Mohammad Khan, a resident of Gurez who arrived in Bandipora via road just a few days back. “Villages like Tulail and Baktoor used to remain cut off for months,” he said.
He added, “This is the first time that internal roads are connected. Earlier, roads would be open only around villages near Dawar.”
Talking to Kashmir Reader, Sub-divisional Magistrate Gurez Rafiq Ahmad said, “Six snow clearance machines are on the ground at different areas in Gurez and ready round the clock to clear snow as it accumulates on the roads; the diesel to operate the machines is stocked and will last up to April.” He added, “One machine is dedicated to Kanzalwan sector, and the rest are in Gurez, from where they go for snow clearance to Tulail, Churwan and other areas.”
According to the officer, the snow clearing is being done by 12 men, who includes the drivers of the “snow cat”, machines, one helper for each vehicle and one junior engineer of the Mechanical Engineering Department (MED) to oversee the operation. “It’s a tough job, and our men are doing exceptionally well despite avalanche threats, as snowfall sometimes is around five feet or more.”
For Shafeeq, the efforts of the Deputy Commissioner Bandipora “are helping in expediting the snow clearance process as he keeps the departments on their toes”. Continuing, he said, “I arrived in Bandipora just a few days ago, it was impossible previously as once the snowfall happened and the road closed, we would only expect its opening after months. Now that the road has closed again, we are hopeful it will open again soon with the efforts of the administration.”
Commending the team, Shafeeq said, “The men clearing snow, all locals, are doing exceptionally well despite looming avalanche threats; they are ever ready for the job. I am witness to it, and the steep, rocky roads make it scarier, but that doesn’t seem a problem for these brave men.”
Though the administration is on the alert to address problems created by snowfall by clearing the roads as soon as they can, the Border Road Organisation (BRO), which takes care of the Gurez-Bandipora road, has remained “non-cooperative” after declining the administration’s pleas for snow clearing last November. Instead the state machinery of the MED was called in for snow clearing and to restore connectivity. Even the officer said, “The Wanpora Bridge to Kanzalwan patch, which comes under BEACON, is being cleared by our MED, besides restoring internal roads like at Izmarg, Baktoor et al.”
Though there has been some relief in terms of connectivity, residents here say they are facing problems in health care as doctors have either been transferred or the posts lie vacant. “There are 12 dental surgeons in Gurez,” a local said, “and all are posted outside the valley while two posts of dental surgeons are vacant at Sub-district Hospital Gurez and Health Centre of Sheikhpora in Tulail.”. When asked for comment, the Sub-divisional magistrate admitted, “We have doctors and paramedical staff available here, but the posts which are vacant have remained so.”
On the positive side, though, a boy who needed to be shifted to SMHS Srinagar from SDH Gurez was airlifted on Friday, along with another patient, after snow was cleared from the helipads on Thursday.
Also, control rooms have been established at Tehsil levels by the administration and police to redress problems which may arise from the snowfall. The most recent bout began on Friday afternoon and was continuing when this report was filed.