Despite tall claims, work on Rs 2000 cr Mughal Road tunnel project nowhere in sight

*Double laning work on Rajouri-Bafliaz road moves at snail’s  pace

Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, Jan 1: Notwith-standing the tall claims of the previous and the present, PDP-BJP Governments, the work on prestigious Rs 2000 crore Mughal Road Tunnel project is nowhere in sight.
After assuming power, the new PDP-BJP Government  made tall announcements with regard to early commencement of the work on the Tunnel project but even after more than one and half year, no visible progress   has been witnessed on the project. Earlier, the previous NC-Congress Government had also made claims several times to start work on this project, but the outcome was before the public.
Though present Government claimed that the Union Surface Transport and Highways Ministry has principally agreed on Rs 2000 crore Mughal Road project, providing all weather land link between Srinagar and Jammu via Rajouri, but the work on the project was yet to take off. Not only this,  the work initiated by Border Roads Organisation on the double laning of the part of Mughal Road, between Rajouri-Thannamandi and Bafliaz, is also moving at snail’s pace.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Union Government has already given clearance to the double-laning of this road from Rajouri to Thannamandi and Bafliaz. While the BRO authorities said to have started work about 6-7 months back  but the agency is moving on snail’s pace.  No signs of  road widening have been witnessed on this link while at some places some premixing work has been initiated or little improvement done in the existing road on the intervention of Minister for R&B Abdul Rehman Veeri.
The GREF authorities with the support of  Revenue authorities Rajouri said to have started land acquisition  process up to  Thannamandi and ahead and it has decided to start widening work only after land acquisition process is over. The other 11 kms single road link to Bafliaz (Mughal road) from Surankot has been improved recently by the authorities but if the  road between Rajouri-Thannamadi- Dera Ki Gali (DKG) is not widened and improved the Mughal Road is incomplete.
Minister for R&B, Abdul Rehman Veeri  when contacted said that  the real purpose of the Mughal Road will be defeated unless  it is made all weather and the road from Rajouri to Balliaz is upgraded. This road is needed to be declared as National Highway.  For this purpose, the matter was  taken up with the Union Ministry of  Surface Transport  and Highways by the State Government.
Veeri said, “ We have exerted pressure on New Delhi to declare Mughal Road as National Highway realizing its importance and the Centre has principally agreed on the proposal. For making this highway all weather,  it is important to construct tunnel between Chhatapani and Jajnar  and this 8.8 km long tunnel will also shorten the distance by nearly  15 km. They have also given their consent to clear the project as and when we send them the DPR,” Veeri maintained.
The R&B Minister further said that for the purpose of  the construction of  this tunnel  and preparing Preliminary Project Report (PPR), a consultancy (SMEC Pvt Ltd) has been engaged by the R&B.  An amount of Rs 2.76 crore is being spent for preparing PPR involving some experts from Australia.  They are on the job and it is expected to get this report within few months.  Thereafter, the DPR would be prepared and submitted to Union Government.
Chief Engineer Mughal Road Project, RK Gupta when contacted and asked for the reason of delay on the project, said that  Australian firm engaged for preparing PPR could not submit report by August this year. He said due to Kashmir unrest,  they could not work properly for 2-3 months and moreover, traffic survey could not be completed on the road as during June -July peak season, they had to conduct traffic survey on it and the situation was not normal here. The survey of exit and entry points of the tunnel is also still remaining. There is snow on both sides now and this work is expected to be completed in May next year now.
Replying to yet another question, the Chief Engineer said that out of Rs 2.76 crore, the R&B paid Rs one crore to the firm recently and Rs 1.76 crore is yet pending. Thereafter, global tenders will be floated for the DPR work. This process would take 6-8 months and then DPR would be submitted to Union Ministry of Surface Transport and Highways. As the funds are released by the Centre, the global tenders for the construction of tunnel will called and work would be  allotted.
When asked about slow pace of work on Rajouri-Thannamandi-Bufliaz road, Gupta said the Chief Engineer Project BEACON (BRO), Brig Bhattacharya  had preferred to start road widening work only after land acquisition process was over on this road. But during recent review meeting with R&B Minister, the Chief Engineer BRO was told to start road widening work where land acquisition is completed.
Veeri also directed the Divisional Commissioner and DC Rajouri in the same meeting  to expedite the land acquisition work on this road and take review from Tehsildars, Naib Tehsildars and Patwaris on fortnightly basis.
The Chief Engineer while providing more details said that for making Mughal Road all weather, only proposed 8.8 kms tunnel is not sufficient. He said making road from Rajouri to Balfliaz double-lane and changing alignment from Thannamandi to Bafliaz ensuring smooth movement of  loaded heavy vehicles besides executing slope stabilization works are the areas on which there is need to give attention.
Gupta said that 8.8 km long tunnel has been proposed between Chattapani on Poonch side and Jajnar on Shopian side of  Pir Ki Gali (Pass). Due to heavy snow in Pir Ki Gali area, the road remained closed for 4-5 months. This tunnel would make this highway all weather and moreover, it will shorten nearly 15 kms distance between Jammu and Srinagar, he added.