It inflicts miseries directly to the stranded ones – including passengers as well as drivers. It gives rise to situations wherein some people are left with no money, some have to sleep under the open, many stranded commuters find hard to get food and water, the ailing passengers struggle in the freezing weather with no possibility to avail health service, the students struggle to find means to reach their allotted exam centers, some blood relations turn restless as they are not able to participate even in the last rites of their beloved ones and so on is all what highway blockade serves to the common masses.
Roads are like blood vessels and sustain us.
The widening of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, the only connecting link for the Kashmir Valley with the rest of the country, was started years ago. But as of now, it has seen success for some stretches, however, for remaining important stretches; the work is lingering due to varied reasons. The widening project of national highway was divided into six sub projects, among which work on three (Srinagar-Qazigund, Chenani-Nashri, Jammu-Udhampur) has been completed. However, for the remaining three – Qazigund-Banihal, Banihal-Ramban, Ramban – Udhampur stretches work is either lingering or going on at snail’s pace.
Lingering of the expansion work is giving tough times to all. Recently, after having a travel on this route, our time travel was stretched to more than 15 hours, the distance which otherwise would’ve been easily completed in 7-8 hours. Besides regular traffic jams, the dilapidated condition of road is giving tough times to all. The road is in shambles with growing number of potholes,turning the road completely into a dusty one.
While travelling on the highway we were caught in a traffic mess that left our vehicles frozen for hours at a very odd place – nothing around – neither water nor food.
I am feeling hungry, can I get something to eat, asked a four year girl to her mother. At that time it’s been one hour for us stuck there. Beta, I don’t have anything with me, said her mother. Wait we’ll come out of this place and will reach to some shop, she added. Knowing the uncertainty of this highway, I always fill my bag with some food material so to overcome any exigencies. I took out one packet from my bag and handed over the same to that little girl. From one hour it crossed to four and we were still stuck there in a hope for restoration of the traffic.
A year back, like this we were caught in a traffic mess for hours on the same Banihal-Ramban stretch and I still remember when our driver questioned to one of the truck driver waiting helplessly like ours in the opposite lane that where from have you come? West Bengal, was his reply. How much time it took you to reach J&K was another query? Strangely, the truck driver answered less than what it takes us to reach from Jammu to Srinagar. I felt he was trying to highlight the magnitude of miseries they face while travelling on this uncertain highway.
Hardly there will be anyone without an ordeal to narrate after having a travel on this highway. Every day the highway finds its name in media outlets, but all for the wrong reasons. Closure is getting more associated with it than opening. Year after year passes, but the valley is not getting the all weather connectivity.
The frequent undue blockage of the highway has two way impacts. First, it has a direct impact on the regional development and economy. With good quantity of horticulture export, the material usually gets stuck in the loaded trucks for a considerable time, thereby causing damage to its quality. On the other side the region being dependent on the imports for most of the essential commodities, the highway blockage usually causes shortage of the same, thereby leading to unnecessary price hikes, the direct brunt of which comes on the common masses.
Second, it inflicts miseries directly to the stranded ones – including passengers as well as drivers. It gives rise to situations wherein some people are left with no money, some have to sleep under the open, many stranded commuters find hard to get food and water, the ailing passengers struggle in the freezing weather with no possibility to avail health service, the students struggle to find means to reach their allotted exam centers, some blood relations turn restless as they are not able to participate even in the last rites of their beloved ones and so on is all what highway blockade serves to the common masses.
To these struggles, new scars are added when instead of offering help means are found to take advantage of helplessness of the commuters. It all happens throughout – by raising prices of essentials, by raising rents of the rooms, and above all by raising manifold the rates of the air tickets. It seems we have totally turned materialistic, losing all value for human emotions.
The degrading condition of the highway is vindicated first by the LEADS index, which has already placed J&K at the bottom of the list of the places having “worst logistic” connectivity in India and second by the regular statements from the traffic department officials communicated to the general public that “only one-way traffic will ply on the highway”.
In a time when the valley is left completely dependent on this national highway, as the other means like train service is still a dream to reach to its completion and air services that usually turn unaffordable during the times of need due to exorbitant fare rates fixed by the airliners, the highway needs some immediate attention. The administration along with, engineers who are better trained to find solutions to such tedious projects need to find some qualitative techniques for completing the widening project of this arterial highway, as early as possible so to free the masses from miseries and nightmares the present condition of highway is inflicting on them and above all to free them from hearing the daily basis statements form traffic department officials, “Sorry! Traffic will ply one way tomorrow”.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]