Batote-Kishtwar Highway

After NH-1 connecting Jammu with Srinagar, Jammu-Batote-Kishtwar is the second important National Highway in the State. It is the life line of Chenab Valley. Of late, its strategic, cultural and commercial importance has received impetus. Actually, after Kishtwar District came into being, there is enhanced commercial and administrative activity in the region and consequently, traffic on this Highway has increased manifold. The highway has been cut from mountains most of them only sand mountains and prone to landslides and mudslides when there is heavy rain or snow.
This Highway initially a narrow and kacha road was built roughly during the last phase of Maharaja Pratap Singh’s reign. Later on a few repairs were made from time to time. When democratic dispensation became stable in the State, local MLAs clamoured for a pucca road. In the process, much improvement was made in this important link. Culverts and parapet walls were made, surface was macadamized and some bottlenecks were removed. Traffic increased manifold and lots of private vehicles began to ply on it. With the passage of time, the road saw heavy traffic passing on to the towns of Bhadarwah, Doda, Kishtwar, Khilani and large number of villages by the roadside. Under the Five Year Plans, this road improved considerably. Widening was done under a regular road construction project. It was a compulsion for the Government because a number of big developmental projects had to be implemented in the two districts. In political terms also, the region attained more and more significance so much so that one chief minister of the State hailed from this region. An era of development and floating of projects was ushered in this region. When Kishtwar became infested with militants using it higher reaches as their hideouts and dumping ground, the importance of this vital connecting road became obvious. Border Road Construction took its improvement and maintenance in hand, and with that it was able to obtain the level of National Highway.
This is all history. But the purpose is to highlight the deteriorated condition of this highway and the dark future of the region if timely steps are not taken to save it from total collapse. A road cut into unstable mountains is very vulnerable to weather conditions. The entire region has plenty of rains in monsoon season causing disaster. Two Government organizations are accused of causing damage to the road.  These are the BSNL and GREF.  Let us explain. GREF is entrusted with the task of widening the road, building culverts, removing bottlenecks etc. While widening the road, GREF has cut out the foot line of the mountains to make space for widened road but left the mountain without toe support. It is a technical matter and geological engineers can throw more light on it. The hills lose their toe support, and the result is that when heavy rains beat the hill tops and slanting mass, it loosens their grip and then huge mudslides and landslides tumble down. These slides either wash away the portions of the road or bury it underneath and thus disrupt normal traffic for days and weeks. Toe-support to the hills could be given by raising stonewalls as support structure. The GREF invariably does not raise stone walls. This is what the GREF does with these hillocks and the widened road. One wished that the GREF invited reputed experts in the field geological engineering and took their advice in widening project.
No less irresponsible is the role of BSNL. This Department has been busy in providing telecom link to the entire region. That is a healthy sign. But they dig the earth to lay underground cable. For this purpose, trenches are dug at specific distances. That helps in laying the cable. But the ground workers do not refill the trenches in a way that it would disallow seepage of rain water. The water runs into the trenches and the result is that the temporary fillings give way and the trench becomes the cause for sinking of the road or creating cracks and fissures in it. This could be avoided if there was proper hard filling of excavated trenches so that seepage was stopped and road made safe.
Apart from these facts, deforestation has also wrought havoc with the road. Unless there is forestation on massive scale, it will not be possible to hold the slides together and disallow them to move down and damage the road. In short, there is threat of total damage to this life-line of Chenab Valley where a vast population lives in rural and urban habitats. Negligence about proper maintenance and repair of this Highway will be a disaster for a large area of the State. In view of this, the State Government should take immediate steps to save this very important Highway.

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