The condition of Srinagar-Jammu highway makes all the more pressing the tunnel’s importance
SHOPIAN: The harrowing experiences of people stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu highway this month have once again shown how vital the construction of a tunnel, promised for years now, on the historic Mughal Road is for the people of Kashmir.
When the PDP and BJP formed a coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir in 2014, the Government of India (GoI) agreed to construct the badly needed tunnel from Zaznad to Chattapani on Mughal Road. But despite a report filed by the J&K Roads & Buildings Department, which it was asked for by the GoI, no progress was seen on the ground.
The proposed tunnel is of vital importance because it will protect the stretch of Mughal Road that is most prone to shooting stones, avalanches, and heavy snowfall. Experts say that clearing landslides or accumulated snow from this stretch of the road is the most difficult, which is why the Mughal Road has to be closed during winter. If a tunnel were to be built through it, the road could be made all-weather, open round the year.
Fruit growers and traders in southern Kashmir are badly affected by the frequent closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway. They say it is the main reason why their apples and fruits spoil and fetch low rates in outside markets. Thousands of apple boxes have gone to waste because of trucks being stranded on the highway for days, they said.
The Mughal Road provides an alternative way in and out of Kashmir. It connects Shopian in south Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu region. The restoration of this historic road, which had fallen into disrepair, was started by the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed after he became chief minister in 2002-03. Later, the construction of the tunnel was made part of his party’s Agenda of Alliance with the BJP in 2014. After his death, the PDP failed to get the tunnel constructed.
Rayees Ahmad Ganie, a truck driver from Shopian, said he has been stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu highway for the past four days. “We fetch drinking water after walking four kilometres. The food items we have are about to end but there is still no chance of the highway opening soon,” Ganie told Kashmir Reader, adding that he and other drivers were very apprehensive about the condition of apples they had loaded in their trucks at Shopian.
If the condition of apples is bad, worse is the condition of drivers and passengers. Ghulam Muhammad, a stranded passenger, said that he left home for Rajistan three days ago and is stranded on the road since then, along with his nephew, who had eaten food only twice in the past three days.
Officials at the Roads & Buildings Department said that last year they were asked to file a report about the proposed tunnel on Mughal Road, which they did. “We filed a preliminary progress report to the Government of India but as far as our knowledge goes, there has been no development thereafter,” an official said.
Officials of the National Highway Development Corporation told Kashmir Reader that they have not been given any contract for building the tunnel, only asked to file a report on “development” of the existing highway.
Javid Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Kulgam who reached home two days ago after being stranded for four days on the highway, said that the people of south Kashmir are now pinning hopes on the Governor’s administration. “Neither the PDP, nor the Congress, nor the National Conference succeeded in getting this project for the valley. Now we hope that the Governor can do so. Else, the Government of India should once for all declare that this project is not going to happen,” Bhat said.
The planned seven-kilometre tunnel between Zaznar and Chattapani at 3,000 meters altitude is expected to cost Rs 1,200 crore. The tunnel, according to experts, would also help in saving the endangered Hirpora wildlife sanctuary, through the heart of which the present Mughal Road passes.
Officials from the wildlife department said that if the tunnel is constructed from Dhobijan to Chattapani, it would be a historical development in Kashmir. The tunnel will bypass all the areas where the Mughal Road threatens wildlife.
The Hirpora sanctuary is home to more than two dozen species listed as endangered.