Srinagar-Jammu national highway will remain closed for vehicular traffic every Friday till November 30. Authorities have said no traffic shall be allowed on these days owing to the maintenance work. This is not the first time that the 300 kilometer highway has been shut for traffic. Considered as Kashmir’s lifeline, the highway has been in a dilapidated state for a long time now. Such is its vulnerability that a few drops of rain trigger landslides. Ramban-Batote is the most vulnerable stretch on the highway. Sometimes it takes days to clear the road for traffic. People dread rainfall while traveling on the highway. Stranded people are left at the mercy of God. People running stalls on the highway exploit the situation to the hilt. Sometimes stranded people have to sell their valuables to buy food if the highway remains shut for a longer period.
A week of highway closure means price rise and shortage of essentials in Kashmir. The problems compound in the winter. Prices of food and vegetables go through the roof. In February last year, the government ordered the rationing of fuel because of the highway closure. The then divisional commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan had directed all deputy commissioners to ensure that no filling station issues more than three liters of petrol per vehicle per day and more than 10 liters of diesel to commercial vehicles per day.
Waking up to the mess, authorities last month constituted different teams to remove all bottlenecks hindering the progress of the four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. The widening work on the highway started in 2011. But it has missed several deadlines. Officials were of the opinion that the issues related to land acquisition, removal of structures and felling of trees in Right of Way (RoW), and shifting of power transmission towers need to be expedited. It was also noted that delay in the process of shifting of towers and felling of trees causing unnecessary hindrances in the smooth progress of work.
Officials were also directed to adhere to the guidelines of the National Green Tribunal and conditions of the contract agreement to avoid criminal proceedings. Agencies were also asked to enhance water sprinkling on the road to minimize the dust.
NH 44 has also earned a sobriquet of `killer highway’ given the fatalities. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data reveals that as many as 1009 people have died in 5839 road accidents in Jammu and Kashmir last year. As per the NCRB report, 364 people have died in 2140 road accidents on national highways in Jammu and Kashmir followed by 118 deaths on state highways.
The government is now pinning hopes on the railway line from Katra- Banihal Railway project. Deputy Commissioner of Ramban Nazim Zai Khan recently directed the Revenue Department to resolve all bottlenecks hindering the execution of the work. He directed the railway authorities to complete the remaining part of the project from Katra to Banihal within the prescribed time.
However, by the time four laning and the railway line are completed, the government needs to take measures so that highway remains open without hindrance. The government needs to think out of the box to keep the highway open. Every time government cannot hide behind the veil of inclement weather. Traffic should be maintained in such a manner that travelers do not face inconvenience. Plus, the trucks’ movement should be regulated so that there is no shortage of supplies in Kashmir. More men and machinery should be pressed into service to ensure smooth and hassle-free travel on the highway. Plus technology should be used to keep people abreast about the situation on the highway so that they can plan travel accordingly.