Country Roads

Tanveer Ahmad Khwaja
There is a fairly good road between Jammu and the border district of Poonch.  The buses plying on the road charge Rs. 300 for a distance of 235 km. This is reasonable, but if one needs to travel further into the interiors, things become difficult.  There are hardly any roads beyond the main road.
It does not take much to understand how skewed the planning has been. Arterial roads are there and there is adequate transport that ply on these.  Interior roads are virtually non-existent and by reverse logic, transport facilities are poor.  This is a quintessential developmental paradox that neatly distinguishes between the urban and rural; between the mainstream and the margins.  Nowhere is this discrimination clearerin a sheer physical sense, than in the pattern of road connectivity. The travel to one of the interior tehsils Surankote becomes harder and harder.  In village Hadi, it hits rock bottom.  Here, roads are virtually non-existent.This village of 7955 strong (Census 2011) is roughly divided into two areas governed by separate panchayats, simply called ” Upper Hadi” and ” Lower Hadi”.  The administrative division consists of ten wards that cover both the Hadis.
It is not that Hadi has no roads in the village at all.  There are roads but the coverage is not uniform. Mohd Arif, 32 working as a casual labour says, “Of the ten wards in Higher HadiPanchayat, roads go to only two -ward no 7 and ward No. 10.  There are no roads to reach the other eight wards.  This means that even to purchase essential commodities such as dry rations, most people have to walk for miles.  The other alternative is to hire a horse.  This turns out expensive, costing Rs. 400 for a trip.  On a regular basis, this is unaffordable for most.
The skewed pattern of development is curiously reflected in the ubiquitous bus ticket.  The journey from Jammu to Poonch costs Rs. 300, but within Hadi village in the district, people have to fork out an astronomical amount of Rs. 400!If there were roads, the cost would drop drastically to a mere INR 10 or at the most Rs.20.  The villagers are aggrieved and rightfully so.  Villages such as Hadi in this border district should have been on the radar of road connectivity, years back.  The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PGMGSY),a centrally sponsored programme launched on 25 December 2000, has been in place since.  It provides for all weather road connectivity in rural areas of the country and envisages connecting all habitations with a population of 500 persons and above in the plain areas and 250 persons and above in hill states, tribal and desert areas.
Abdul Hamid 60recalls a time when there was a spurt of interest by the administration in this regard.  “About five years ago, a survey team came here and did some work.  After that, nothing happened – neither did they come back, nor has there been any sign of road construction since then”, he rues.
Every time a political leader visits the place, predictably prior to elections, the community raises the issue. Yet this goes unheeded as new dispensations come to power. The political class as well as the administration has remained impervious to the stated needs of the people of Hadi. Yet Abdul Hamid is hopeful.  “We don’t want to get into the details of where the roads should be built.  We can leave all this to the Department.  We badly want the road to come up.  If that happens it will be the greatest gift for us.”, he says.
The completion of the NDA government’s two years in office is a good time to take stock of this high priority sector that drives not only economic growth but social progress as well. Marking the occasion, ABP News Channel presented a report card on the performance of its ministers.  A panel of the country’s top 50 journalists gave their ratings on individual Ministers.
The highest ratings went to Nitin Gadkari, Minster for Road Transport and Highways. Interestingly,Mr. Gadkari had stated that road projects languishing for years, would be cleared by the completion of the two year period of the present government under Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.  It is noteworthy that this was followed up with action- funding support for pending projects, weeding out non-performers amongst contractors and opening up Rs.3.5 lakh crore worth of projects in different zones in the country.
This renewed policy focus and programme action has led to tangible results.  The average highway construction that fell from 7 km per day in 2013 to an abysmal 2 km per day in 2014 rose under the Minister’s stewardship.  On assuming charge of the Ministry, Mr. Gadkari had set a punishing pace to achieve 30 km of road construction per day.  Although this is yet unreached, the present pace of 20-21 km per day is a manifold jump.
But somewhere along the way, are the margins of the country losing out in this race to achieve targets?  How else can you explain the paradoxical situation in Surankote, Poonch?  In the more than 15 years of PGMGSY and two years of completion of the present government, this underdeveloped border region is still struggling to get a road.
It may be a long haul yet for the anxious, yet hopeful villagers of Hadi; on the other hand, swift action by the government could very well turn things around.  But for the present, the people in Hadi village, Surankote in Poonch are not cheering lustily for the remarkable feat achieved in road construction in the country. (Charkha Features)