Development of Rajouri-Poonch Sub-Region

Dr. Ram Chander Sharma
The tragic passenger bus accident killing 10 passengers and injuring 38 on Jammu-Poonch National Highway (144 NH) on 2nd of this month at village Lamberi (Nowshera-Rajouri) is yet another grim story of twin border Districts of Rajouri-Poonch in terms of road-rail-air connectivity. The all-round underdevelopment/backwardness of this strategic area falling on old Mughal road for the last 73 years of Indian independence speaks volumes of negligence of Indian Government. This vital North western Himalayan region south of Pirpanjal Mountains always stood as rock before foreign incursions since centuries due to bravery of its people. But, the present scenario is going from worse to worst even after the abrogation of Article 370 and creation of two Union Territories.
The road distance from winter capital city Jammu of J&K UT is about 250 Kms. traversing through mountainous areas and zag zig zag curves. It was a great leap when Old Mughal road was opened much to the objections of defense/environment experts but even declaring it as a National Highway 144 nothing moved forward in the right direction. Government of course started the four lanning of Jammu-Akhnoor patch of road to open bidding system but remained undecided over the stretch falling from Akhnoor to Poonch which in maintained by Border Road Organization (BRO). There were some poor hearted attempts by BRO in the year 2006 to double lane it but again it was abandoned due to unknown reasons. The other area from Reasi to Rajouri via Kalakote was taken on fast track basis due to defense reasons but stretch form Akhnoor vial Sunderbani-Nowshera-Rajouri was nevertheless abandoned in spite of the fact the region is most populated and is dire need of four lanning.
Due to population explosion the need of road-rail-air connectivity is a way forward to rapid development and employment generation. The budding students of the area have to go far away for normal and technical education and the sick have to go outside the UT for specialized treatment. The region is zero in industry except illegal Brick Kilns and Stone Crushers an activity which is responsible for environmental degradation and agriculture/fisheries havoc. The Government apathy is seen in every sector associated with rural development as except few towns all are dependent on rural economy especially traditional agriculture and animal sector. But, was a net exporter of maize, ghee, honey, aryuvedic raw medicines, timber, minor forest produce as Anardana ; now collapsed – has became a net importer with loss of fertile agri land to Brick Kiln Mafia, forests and water resources to land and stone crusher mafia.
Every rural family vies for Below Poverty Line ration card and all type of central subsidies. The main source of employment for youths is to go to agricultural mandies of Punjab or for cheap construction works in Srinagar and Jammu cities. The Sub Region has a distinct agro-climatic condition with vast water resources in form of perennial rivers/rivulets, springs. The religious and eco tourism is so vast that the adjoining areas have 27 natural lakes, meadows and trekking routes not found elsewhere in India. It has the world’s best Sunderbani-Nowshera Doon Valley in the foothills of majestic Himalayas. But the major impediment is the basic connectivity and lack of engines of rural growth. The southern boundary of this sub region has Line of Actual Control (LOC) bearing the daily woes of cross LOC shelling and the wounds of four Indo-Pak wars ; however the so called Jihad had had no takers here and people shunned the religious hatred and lived in total inter faith harmony. As we go to vast swathes of land and hills one finds best form of hospitality and universal brotherhood.
The potential of religious and village tourism are so vast as there are various shrines in form of Raghunath Temple, Mahadev Temple (Sunderbani) , Guru Govind Singh Gurudwara Sahib, Mata Mangla Devi Cave, Baba Biram Shah Shrine (Nowshera)- Tatapani Shrine (Kalakote)- Baba Shahdara Shrief Shrine (Rajouri)- Nagali Sahib Gurudwara Shaib, Pir Shah Shrine, Pandvas Temples, Budha Amarnath Shrine (Poonch) and various forts, sarais and halting sites on old Mughal route. The exclusive health resorts as Budhal, Dehra Gali, Loren have no match in entire Jammu region. The various agricultural and animal rearing communities as Pahadies, Gujars, Bakerwal and original Dogras and Poonchies and Pothwaries have rich cultural and agricultural heritage.
The basic issue of modern means of connectivity as four lanning of Jammu -Poonch National Highway with tunnels and all weather Mughal Road with a tunnel, rail link via Akhnoor Sunderbani and a modern Air Port at village Siot-Sunderbani need to be taken on priority basis. As the planned double lanning of Akhnoor-Poonch road is ill conceived and as per the traffic load and to prevent road accidents a four lane NH is needed. Besides there is no trauma centre in the region and village Siot a cenrally situated place is best suited for the purpose to avoid critical head injuries deaths en route to Jammu Medical College Hospital as was seen during this recent road accident.
(The author is Sarpanch Siot Panchayat Rajouri)