A big infrastructural push of 30 important road links and tunnels worth Rs 50,000 crores is expected to unleash huge economic windfall in Jammu and Kashmir in the next decade. The world-class tunneling and rewarding of five national highways in the beleaguered region will meet defense requirement that has borders facing hostile neighbors, note officials privy to “Naya Jammu and Kashmir".
The Chenab Valley which is furrowed by the Chenab river and comprises Doda, Baderwah, Kishtwar, Ramban, and Banihal areas is getting the best attention. With its vast potential to generate hydro-power, this valley nestled in mountains has bagged many big-ticket projects.
“It seems all roads are leading to Chenab. Roads, tunnels, and what, it seems stop here. People aren’t complaining and want quick execution of projects," Asif Iqbal, a senior journalist based in the region, told News 18.
“With around 20 road and hydro-power tunnels being dug up, my concern is we are sitting upon an environmental disaster. Since Kishtwar district falls in highly dangerous seismic zone V, so those concerns should be addressed. A judicious mix of development and environmental safeguards should be the focus," Iqbal warned. Officials however have been told to expedite the development push and complete the works within the stipulated deadlines.
Big push in Chenab valley
A 2142 crore rupees project named Goha-Khellani-Chatroo-Khanbal road will provide better connectivity to Doda, Kishtwar, and Kashmir valley from Jammu. The Chenani-Sudh Mahadev link that entails digging up two tunnels at Goha Dranga villages will provide an additional links to the Chenab valley, currently, accessible through the existing Chenani-Nashri tunnel.
The Kathua-Basohli-Doda and the Doda-Baderwah-Chamba surface links will open up Chenab valley directly for trade from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab without accessing the Jammu plains. Similarly, the two tunnels named Khelani and Kishtwar tunnels coming up at Rs 749 crore and 91 crore rupees respectively will shorten the distance between Jammu to Kishtwar. These two tunnels will save on travel time by bypassing the landslide-prone areas.
Another shot in the arm would be the recently announced Atholi-Zanskar-Kargil road. It will connect the region with Ladakh through the Saffire mine area of Paddar. This link is a win-win for the defense forces too as it provides yet another alternate route to the Ladakh region, Srinagar-Leh and Manali-Leh routes being the two fair weather links.
But the Chenab valley is keener to see the connectivity with Kashmir valley through. Although an old and patchy 210 km road link between Kishtwar and Srinagar through the Sinthan top is there, heavy snowfall cuts it off for four to five months. The remedy is to expedite work on a 10 km Singhpora-Vailoo tunnel that will cut the distance by 50 km and avoid the tough stretch through craggy mountains.
The only good news in the last many years is that the Kishtwar-Srinagar stretch is a part of upgraded National Highway NH-244 and is supposed to get increased focus.
From Lakhanpur – the Jammu-Punjab borderline - through the Bani-Basohli Bhaderwah road project that is underway – this route will be the easy pick for travelers driving down to Srinagar without hitting Jammu and big towns like Kathua, Samba, and Udhampur.
The road can also be used for Amarnath pilgrimage without pilgrims actually touching the several congested townships along the NH-44.
Observers say this road link would have been up and running two decades back had not Jammu-based lobby scuttled its upgradation. The lobby would see it as a `Greater Kashmir’ project which links the people of Chenab with Kashmir. The PDP-led government had to do a lot of convincing to Centre that the road will not only connect Kashmir but can become an important supply line for the Army besides making the upcoming power projects in Chenab more accessible.
Pir Panjal projects
The long-pending demand of residents of the mountainous Pir Panjal is the up-gradation of the Mughal road – a 180-kilometer route that connects Srinagar with Rajouri and Poonch. Like the Sinthan surface link, the Mughal road to remains shut for five months due to adverse winters. The government has now mooted to dig a tunnel from Chhatapani from the Poonch side to Zaznar from Shopian in Kashmir that would bypass the Pir ki Gali (PKG) area which receives 15 to 20 feet of snow in winters.
“Ideally there should be another tunnel that starts from Thanamandi and ends at Buflaiz to make it an all-weather road. This can bypass the forested area of the Dera Ki Gali (DKG) where a lot of snow accumulates," Abdul Hamid, former chief engineer, Roads, and Building, told News 18. “There are other routes too that link Pir Panjal with Valley but they have not been taken up. The Mughal road needs to be widened and declared as a national highway like the Jammu-Poonch highway,’’ he said.
The 5000 crore rupees project of the Jammu-Akhnoor and Akhnoor-Poonch stretches of the 250 km Jammu-Poonch highway is being widened to four-lane to ease congestion and ensure faster movement of traffic.
Other big-ticket projects include constructing the ongoing Jammu and Srinagar ring roads at approximately Rs 2000 and Rs 3000 crores. These are being done to decongest the cities by constructing new road networks and widening the existing stretches. New road networks like the Baramulla-Gulmarg, Domail-Katra-Reasi-Bamla, and Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway are underway. The 91 km Srinagar-Shopian-Qazigund route to be strengthened, would offer a parallel choice to commuters to get off the congested NH-44.
The two-lane road will faster connectivity from Srinagar to Qazigund via Pulwama, Shopian, and Kulgam Districts. Bypasses on Pulwama, Shopian, and Kulgam towns, already sanctioned, will cut the travel time.
The extension of NH-701A (Baramulla-Gulmarg road) up to Narbal (Srinagar) will give another option to commuters to stay away from the busy Srinagar-Anantnag-Muzaffarabad road.
Among the tunnels, while two big ones at Nashri and Banihal - are operational, the next big ones - the Zojilla tunnel and Z-Morh Enroute Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway are being constructed. Work has also been allotted to the three tunnels and via-duct on NH-44, a few tunnels on NH-144A in Akhnoor-Poonch Section while the government has said it is committed to building a tunnel on Sadha pass connecting Kupwara with Tangdhar.