Srinagar: As much as the doctors and nurses battling Covid-19, labourers and staff of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) are working tirelessly to maintain and repair the Jawahar Tunnel to ensure that essential supplies reach Kashmir valley.
The Jawahar Tunnel regularly requires maintenance as it has grown old and can hardly bear the heavy traffic that passes through it. Besides, BRO officials say, the tunnel should be maintained with proper oxygen level and air quality, as low levels of oxygen can cause suffocation. This is done by regulating the jet-exhaust fans, fitted inside the tunnel, which suck out the harmful gases and smoke emitted from vehicles.
Officials said they do not have modern machinery and equipment for maintaining oxygen and air-quality levels inside the tunnel, due to which it takes time to carry out the task.
At least 50 local labourers are working under BRO for daily maintenance and repair of the tunnel. Despite the prevailing risk of Covid-19, the labourers are working constantly in shifts, from morning to evening, to keep the tunnel open for vehicular traffic. Officials said that the labourers have been provided with protective gear.
Thirty General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) personnel supervise the work at Jawahar Tunnel continuously. They monitor the work of labourers and direct them to perform different jobs inside the tunnel.
Officials said that if the tunnel is not maintained and regulated constantly, it will lead to disruption of traffic and will affect visibility inside the tunnel. Due to the constant traffic, a black coating gets accumulated over the roof and walls of the tunnel, which requires to be cleaned at regular intervals to maintain visibility inside the tunnel. At some places, paint is also done to ensure that light is not absorbed by the black coating accumulated on the surface.
Being one of the oldest mountain tunnels in India, the Jawahar Tunnel is not equipped with modern lighting and exhaust equipment. Often the lights get dysfunctional due to water leaking from the roof and walls.
The maintenance work is carried out daily. One side of the tunnel is closed for traffic for some time, and all traffic is diverted through the other side in turns to allow equal passage of vehicles from both directions.
Ajay Singh, the BRO officer in charge of Jawahar Tunnel, told Kashmir Reader, “We do maintenance of the tunnel on daily basis or else it won’t be safe for traffic to pass through. Our men and machinery continue to work despite the prevailing circumstances to ensure that essential traffic is plying normally.”
“We have 30 GREF personnel along with at least 50 labourers to carry on the daily work at the tunnel. Since a few days we are providing accommodation and food to the local labourers here, so that they remain available to work and are comfortable. Without our men, it will not be possible to maintain the tunnel,” Singh added.
The officer, however, said that the Jawahar Tunnel needs to be revamped soon, within the next few months, to prevent it from developing serious problems. He said the BRO has already proposed a plan for overall repair and renovation of both sides of the tunnel, besides throwing open the alternate Banihal route in the next few weeks, for which work is going on.