In absence of vital Chenab bridge, 30,000 villagers from Pargwal remain trapped during Pak shelling

Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, June 3:  In the absence  of  a very vital bridge as per defence point of view  over river Chenab, connecting nearly 32 villages  and four dozen  hamlets of  Pargwal area with Khour and Jourian belts of  Akhnoor Sub Division in district  Jammu, a population of over 30,000 remained trapped inside their houses for more than 10 hours during heavy shelling by the Pakistani troops today.
The only road,  which is called as `lifeline’ of the people of this `strategically disadvantageous’  area of Pargwal, surrounded by Pakistan border from two side and one side from river Chenab, is hardly 50 to 100 meters  away from Indo-Pak border at several points. The road is exposed to direct Pak firing at several places and therefore, the Defence  and Police authorities close the movement of vehicles on this road  when the Pakistani shelling starts.
During early hours today when the Pakistani shelling started  in this area, which is also known as `Chicken  Neck’ , the people of  this over 30 villages could not escape along with their children to the safer places, but  had to remain confined inside their houses.  There is no other road or alternate route to escape. The only road from Sua No. 1 on Jammu-Akhnoor Road  provides direct link to these border villages, where Pakistani troops  are at advantageous position.
One Jai Singh, chairman Border Kissan Union said that after ceasefire agreement between the DGMOs of  India  and Pakistan few days back,  the border villages especially from Pargwal  and Kanachak were  very happy.  But during wee hours today, the heavy  shelling  from Pakistani side started and border people were shocked to know about it. He said this time the intensity of fire was very high and range of the shelling was also increased by Pak troops. The shells even hit some areas near Shama Chak, around 5-7 kms inside IB.
” We four families wanted to shift to Jammu or Akhnoor along with children in own vehicles during early morning but the Defence authorities had already stopped the movement of  vehicles on this road for the safety of civilians. Many other people of the area wanted to escape and desert the villages amidst shelling but could not move out. The people become sandwich.”
He said had the bridge over Chenab connecting Khour been constructed, the people of nearly 32 villages  of  Pargwal could have moved out to the safer locations.  He alleged that due to dirty politics and vested interests within the Government this vital bridge worth  Rs 206 crore over Chenab has been delayed for several years.  He said there is need to change the alignment of  existing Pargwal Road from Sua No. 1 so that it should be kept  at least 2 kms away from the International Border.
MLA Khour-Pargwal area, Dr Krishan Lal said that shelling from Pakistani side started at round 2 am (mid night) and it continued till  8  am. It again started in the evening.  He claimed that  people wanted to move out to safer locations but the  road is not safe as the border  at Mala Bela and Rajpura posts is hardly at stones throw.   Therefore,  it is closed  during shelling.
He said Rs 206 crore had been sanctioned by the Central Government for this vital bridge but unfortunately after  two and half years the contract work could not be finalized by the State JKPCC and R&B authorities.  The MLA said earlier the then MD JKPCC, Thusu  and his team proved a big failure to execute  work and wasted over 18 months  and now for the last more than nine months, the R&B authorities have failed to complete tender process and allotment of work.
“I and MLA Akhnoor Rajiv Sharma went to Chief Minister, Chief Secretary,  R&B Minister Naeem Akhtar for this bridge but till today, the work of this bridge could not be allotted. He said the people of Akhnoor, Khour  and Pargwal    also staged dharna at JKPCC office at Jammu some time back but a population of over 30,000 has been deprived of the bridge.  The sabotage at certain levels can not be ruled out. This bridge will help defence forces, border population  and also public from Pallanwalla and Khour by providing shortest route to Jammu. We will again exert pressure on the Government,” he added.
Commissioner/ Secretary R&B Sanjeev Verma when contacted said that DPR worth Rs 177 crore for this bridge has been prepared in the first phase and it took about 3-4 months time. He further claimed that national tenders were floated during  April  but there  was poor response. Then again the tenders were called and June 2 was fixed as the date of opening  tender. But in view of poor response again, the date has been extended  up to June 18, 2018.  He claimed that the work will  be allotted most probably by the end of this month and this time a good response is expected.
Verma  said that there were many flaws in the process under taken by JKPCC and entire process was started with new initiative. He admitted that due to absence of this vital bridge the people of this area suffer badly during Pakistani shelling. Verma  maintained that he was taking much pains to complete the tender process as early as possible  and  involve a national level big company for the work of this longest bridge in the State.
Superintending Engineering , R&B Jammu-Kathua, Dev Raj said that hardly two firms had submitted tenders  and  the response was poor. The tender were called again during first week of May and now the date has been extended from June 2 to June 18. He hoped that by the end of this month the allotment of work will be made by opening technical as well as financial bid. He also stressed for having alternate road or new alignment between this bridge-Pargwal and Jammu so that it could be away from the Indo-Pak border.
It may be recalled that  after wasting about one and half year with zero outcome  on Rs 206 crore prestigious Chenab  bridge project  connecting Pargwal border villages  directly with Akhnoor and Khour, the agency JKPCC had returned this vital bridge project to the R&B authorities in the month of September 2017.  During last nine months the tender process could not be completed by the agency  despite the fact that concerned Minister during October 2017 had hinted to start work most probably by January or February 2018.
This prestigious Jammu centric project  was facing rough weather  from very beginning at the hands of the people at the helm of affairs, despite the fact that entire funding  worth Rs 206. 90 crore is being made by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways under CRF.
Sources revealed that   Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways sanctioned the 1680 mt long bridge project over Chenab  on January 18, 2016. The work was authorised by the State R&B department to the JKPCC, which itself is contracting agency with no infrastructure,  on April 16, 2016. As the CRF guidelines,  national e-tender was issued  on 25-7-2016 and last date of submission of bid was October 26, 2016. The technical  bid was opened on November 11, 2016.  In between a writ petition was filed in the court by a local company after the tender process was completed. However, the  High Court  after listening both sides dismissed by the petition on March 23, 2017.
The members of the Bid Committee including MD JKPCC and others,  failed to finalise the contract even after court lifted the restrictions. In between the bid validity of 120 days as per e-NIT condition expired on February 22, 2017.    Three main companies, who are contesting- M/s Gammon India Ltd Mumbai,  M/s SP Singla Constructions Pvt Ltd  Chandigarh and M/s Arvind Techno Engineers Pvt Ltd Delhi were requested for three months extension in the bid validity. They all deposited bank guarantee worth over Rs 10 crores with the JKPCC.    Interestingly, the extended financial bid  validity of (90 days) the bridge project expired on May 23, 2017, but the officials at the helm of affairs in JKPCC and R&B department  failed to take a decision. Again three more extensions of 30 days each were sought by the MD JKPCC and his team but they just managed to buy time and did not open the financial bid even after opening the technical bid  forcing R&B Minister to assign this work to R&B.