Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has succeeded in generating good will of the Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, a development destined to bring about meaningful revolution in surface transport in the State. She led a powerful delegation to New Delhi where an hour and half long meeting was held with the Surface Transport Minister who was assisted by top echelons of his ministry and that of the Water and Tourism Ministries. The reassuring thing is that the Union Minister for Surface Transport has understood that J&K is a hilly state and special surface transport problems need to be met by special package. The main requirements of the State are (a) tunneling as much as possible wherever technically sound (b) widening of existing roads and macadamizing them (c) opening new and utility-oriented road links, and (d) extending rail connectivity to the far flung areas in all the three regions of the State.
Union Surface Minister has agreed to tunneling of Mughal Road at Pir ki Gali, and tunnel to connect Kishtwar with Anantnag in Kashmir. The work on Zoji La tunnel is to begin soon. Gadkari announced in the meeting that 9-kilometers Chenani-Nashri tunnel construction at a cost of over Rs 2500 crores would be completed by the end of this month and thrown open for the transport in the month of March. The most important decision which the Union Minister conveyed to the CM during the meeting was that his ministry had accepted the proposal of completing Lakhanpur – Basohli – Doda road connectivity and once that is done there will be at least three inlets into the valley namely the existing BC Road, Mughal Road and Kishtwar – Anantnag Road. At present we have only one dependable road, the Jammu-Srinagar road which is easily prone to landslides or snow slides during rainy season and in winter. Having alternative connections will undo road blockade for days at end.
Union Ministry has agreed to build circular road in both capital cities in view of fast growing city transport and the great pressures on city traffic owing to movement of large number of people from rural area. Circular road is a need and it is fine that the Central government will build it as they like. However, the fact of the matter is that unless there is the provision for the tramway or monorail in the cities, congestion and traffic snarls may not disappear. It is good that the Chief Minister has raised a number of issues like speeding up the four-lanning of National Highway on remaining portions.
Chief Minister also met with the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and had a cordial meeting in which matters pertaining to extension and upgrading of railway service in the State. The Railway Minister has agreed that the Banihal rail tunnel will be opened in emergency when the main tunnel is blocked by heavy snowfall on either side.
Keeping in view almost all demands of the Chief Minister as valid and by and large met by the Union Minister of Surface Transport, there was an added satisfaction when the Minister announced additional bonanza of 1000 core rupees for J&K to meet various expenditures pending for want of funds. This will come as a boon to the State which is already money starved.
In final analysis it is very satisfying to note a big and favourable change in the policy and thinking of the Ministry of Surface Transport to give special treatment to J&K State, which remained neglected for many years in the past as if it was not part of our territory. With the funds flowing freely and infrastructural development plans well designed, with meticulously planned and well maintained road connectivity, all elements seem to be favouring for economic and industrial growth of the State.
This is all good and fine and we are very happy that the State will certainly benefit immensely from this huge input. However, we would like to insist upon the Chief Minister and the State administrative structure that acquisition of land for new roads or for widening the existing roads or for railway lines is a complicated issue and the main cause of delay in completing the projects. Therefore the State government must evolve a mechanism which will ensure cutting long delaying periods in finalizing acquisition of land. This hurdle should not be allowed to put a break in the speedy completion of road projects.