Jammu: Notwithstanding the ongoing lockdown which has mostly restricted the movement of vehicles to essential commodities only, the 270-km Jammu-Srinagar highway has become a nightmare for the commuters due to the pathetic condition of the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with the rest of the country.
The people living along the strategic highway, especially in the most slide prone Ramban-Banihal sector, are also exasperated over the slow pace of work on the four-laning project being undertaken by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) over the past nine years.
“This is not the road but has become a virtual death trap. You can see the drivers of all types of vehicles, both light and heavy, moving out of their lanes to avoid the massive potholes dotting the highway right from Samroli to Qazigund, a distance of almost 120-kms, thus increasing the chances of accidents on the hilly road,” Rajinder Singh, a frequent traveller between the twin capitals, told PTI.
Singh said he was expecting a smooth ride given the lockdown and restricted movement of vehicles but had the “worst experience” of travelling on the road from Srinagar to Jammu last week.
“It took me almost six hours to drive the patch of just 36 kms from Banihal to Ramban. The road is so bad that vehicles move very slowly amid blinding dust and this leads to congestion,” he said.
The ongoing work on the four-laning project coupled with landslides triggered by rains have reduced the breadth of the road at various places to single-way only, Singh added.
S Tariq, another traveller, also shared a horrifying experience and said the road construction agencies are flaunting all rules and undertaking work without taking necessary precautionary measures for the safety of the commutes.
“On Friday when I and two of my family members including a minor were moving from Srinagar to Jammu, a JCB on work ahead of Panthiyal threw a large amount of debris including rocks inside my vehicle. We, especially the minor who was sleeping in the backseat and woke up frightened, fortunately escaped unhurt,” he said, adding their protest fell on deaf ears.
A college student, who wished not to be named, said the women travellers are the worst sufferers as they do not find any place to attend the call of nature.
“The lockdown not only closed the hotels, restaurants and eateries but also the washrooms en route. One finds it very difficult to find a facility to ease herself,” she said.
Ashok Kumar, a truck driver, said it is pathetic that the government is not paying any heed to the worst condition of the road.
“At least, please fill up the potholes which are causing damage to our vehicles,” he pleaded.
The highway widening work was started in 2011 and it was targeted to be completed within five years from its commencement.
The four-laning of the highway would reduce the time of travel on the highway by half from the present eight to nine hours after shortening the distance between the two cities by 50 kms, bypassing a number of treacherous points.
However, the highway project has already missed a number of deadlines due to sluggish pace of work, while fresh deadlines have been set for the completion of work on Nashri-Ramban and Ramban-Banihal-Qazigund sectors which also include several key tunnels including the Banihal-Qazigund tunnel, between December 2020 and 2021.
“Our life has become miserable ever since the work on the highway project started. The executing agencies have outsourced their work to local contractors who do not have much expertise and experience of cutting mountains, as a result of which we are facing increased landslide activity even if there is a drizzle,” Mohammad Taskeen, a resident of Ramban, said.
He said sprinkling water on the road by the executing agencies is just a cosmetic exercise to silence the local residents who are at the risk of health issues due to excessive inhalation of dust which is emitted from the work sites.
Referring to the recent massive landslide and sinking which damaged 40 residential houses and rendered hundreds of families homeless at Dalwas village in Ramban in March, he alleged that this was the direct fallout of the unplanned execution of work on the project.
“A few electricity transmission towers also got uprooted and some others are also under threat,” Taskeen said, claiming that the road has been completely neglected since it was handed over to the NHAI for widening and upgradation.
Manohar Lal, another local resident, said traffic jams have become a routine affair for the commuters travelling on the highway even as the movement of the traffic was restricted to one-way, playing alternatively from Srinagar and Jammu, over the past two years.
The major reason for the traffic jam is the worst condition of the road, he said.
Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma said the repair work on the highway could not take place on time this season due to the prevailing situation in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are going through difficult times and there is a shortage of labour. We are going to start the repair work on the highway shortly,” he said.
The road usually gets damaged during winters owing to landslides triggered by snowfall and heavy rains, Verma said.
“Last year, we repaired the highway on time but this time it could not be possible due to shortage of the labourers,” he said.