Construction work on widening of Jammu Akhnoor road, now declared as National Highway 144-A, has now restarted at full pace after almost remaining standstill during the lockdown period when most of the migrant labour force had left for their homes in different states of the country.
This vital defence road, linking Jammu city with districts of Poonch and Rajouri (located close to international border with Pakistan) and Ranbir Canal run kissingly close to each other right from Jammu city to Akhnoor town. In fact this road and its widening now to 4-Lane width is mostly on land owned by Irrigation Deptt , J&K Govt (now transferred for road widening). The purpose of keeping this wide strip of open land on either side of Ranbir Canal (inaugurated in 1912 AD) was not only to develop inspection paths on its either side but to also ensure a green buffer on both sides of canal as a protection of its water (meant for irrigation) from polluting effluents of adjoining settlements. As such, general public hope that development of Ranbir Canal , an invaluable economic, recreational and heritage asset of Jammu , shall invite due focus in this road widening project.
Morning walkers of the Canal walkway (developed by J&K Bank but now totally neglected and abandoned by it) are upset as to why this road widening from Platinum Mall to Bakshi Nagar Canal bridge has been finalized by swallowing major portion of the green slopes and ornamental plantation of the Canal walkaway under the proposed right of way of road. It is painful to observe that many full grown trees in this stretch of canal walkway, frequented by hundreds of walkers daily, have been cut. Many feel that after completion of a ring road around Jammu city, Army movement towards Poonch and Rajouri border districts may find it more convenient to use ring road (bypassing traffic stressed internal roads of Jammu city) rather than the Jammu-Akhnoor road being widened now primarily for defence movements. Anyway, Jammu Akhnoor road widening shall definitely ease ever-increasing traffic movement on this vital transport corridor. All sections of public fully support road widening proposals but it should’nt be at the cost of Canal walkways and its greenery. All over the world, city Governments are pushing hard to preserve and increase green cover within urban areas to mitigate the harmful effects of toxic air pollution and warming. Sometimes doubt arises as to whether this road-widening project was seriously examined under the mandatory Environment Impact study or not as it is difficult to digest tree cutting and reduction of green walkway under this prestigious road widening project. Meaningful public participation with all groups including Walkers association members or some local experts may have given better options.
Flyover construction on this road is presently under full swing. Piers of flyover raised on ground clearly indicate that the present Canal Walkway from Bakshi Nagar Canal bridge towards Akhnoor side has scope of both its extension and widening in many stretches upto the end point of flyover in Muthi. It is suggested that a detailed physical survey and assessment of widening (wherever possible) and extension of present Canal walkway along the entire length of flyover is undertaken jointly by JMC/JDA and NHAI engineers as otherwise open govt. land strips between the widened road edge and Canal bank could become vulnerable to unplanned developments and encroachments. It shall be a great contribution of NHAI (National Highway Authority of lndia) who are executing this road project, if they agree to fund landscaped development of this Canal walkway ( widening/ extension/beautification) for the city of Jammu.
Engineers/Field Staff of NHAI on site assure enquiring general public using Canal walkway that the same would be properly developed and landscaped (when the construction of road gets completed) through some reputed landscape Consultant. A word of caution here in light of previous design experience of Walkway and Rajinder Park. On the orders of then Chief Minister of then J&K State late Mufti Sayeed, J&K Bank was directed, as part of their social responsibility, to develop Rajinder Park and Canal walkway along Akhnoor road. A Delhi based Architect was engaged for this job. Looks no guiding brief indicating the local characteristics of site was given to the Consultant for consideration in the design to be prepared for these important city public spaces. As a result, Rajinder Park and Walkway (before start of road construction) were neat and well maintained but the pleasant and soothing public view of the cool water surface of Canal waters is mostly hidden as unnecessary fencing acting as barrier has been raised along the canal edges. Similar is the situation along Akhnoor road walkway where iron grills raised along the Canal edge obstructs the full canal view for the walkers . The writer of the article believes that accentuating Canal water view and guiding cool air from ice-cold canal water surface towards Walkway and green areas (in Rajinder Park) should have been an important design element of these important public spaces. In essence, it is suggested to NHAI that public participation/consultation with local experts be given due importance while finalizing any beautification plan/design of the presently damaged walkway along Akhnoor road for better results later on Jammu city is expanding very fast physically towards its southern (Pathankote side) and western (Akhnoor side) directions.
Most likely after a decade or so, its urban limits may get very close to Akhnoor town. Since lake on Tawi river now looks to be a remote possiblity, steps to tap the recreational potential of Ranbir Canal from Akhnoor town to Jammu city need to be explored by JMC/JDA. It was reported sometime back that Akhnoor town is being connected by road with Katra town. As and when it happens , many road using pilgrims from Katra may undertake their return journey from Katra/Shiv-khori pilgrimage Centres to Jammu via Akhnoor route. Besides Akhnoor, with its majestic Chenab river water front and many historic sites , has potential to develop as an important tourist town in Jammu province in future .Consequently Jammu Akhnoor road being widened is likely to experience significant tourist movement on it in times to come. Thus this road widening project and Ranbir Canal Development (having handsome recreational potential) need to be planned and developed in an integrated way keeping this vision in mind by the authorities concerned.
(The author is retd. Development Commissioner, Town Planning Orgn, J&K Govt)