Jammu-Sri Highway nightmare

NH44, lifeline of Kashmir as well as Ladakh region has transformed from a cart road to motorable one to now four laning since independence. Many flagship first time projects like Jawahar tunnel and Nashri tunnel, had been undertaken to make this highway comfortable and all weather. But the four laning of this highway has virtually become a death trap for commuters and a nemesis for Government with no immediate visible respite right now.
Four laning of Jammu-Srinagar highway started in 2011, Jammu- Udhampur 65 km stretch was completed in 2014 and ?9.2 km Nashari tunnel in 2017. Udhampur- Banihal four laning was allocated to two companies by NHAI, Gammon India executing Udhampur to Ramban 43 km stretch and HCC executing Ramban to Banihal 36 km stretch. The difficult terrain and more than eight thousand vehicles per day traffic have virtually made execution of work at snail’s pace. The problem is further intricated by the fact that both these companies have sub contracted the work to local contractors who neither have requisite expertise nor machinery to execute the tedious work. Unprecedented and unplanned blasting has made soil loose after frequent rains as such gravitating boulders, landslides and shooting stones are occurring unabated with such intensity now that even road clearances have become impossible. Absence of side protection walls, strong steel grills/nets at vulnerable points is testimony to how much serious executing companies are. The condition of the national highway has gone from bad to worse as no repair and maintenance work is possible with traffic moving regularly. Nine deaths and over two dozen injured people in last six months speaks about the death trap this highway has become at Ramban district alone. The air pollution has increased manifold in the areas along the highway. Regular OFC cable cutting due to unplanned digging is another problem as it results in frequent telephonic disconnectivity. Story of Banihal to Qazigund is no different as work was stalled in the past due to financial crunch of executing agency Nauyuga Engineering Company which was tasked to complete a two-tube tunnel on the Banihal-Qazigund stretch. Same is the plight of Srinagar Qazigund stretch which was allotted to Hyderabad-based Ramky Infrastructure and is still incomplete despite several deadlines.
So practically speaking except for Jammu to Udhampur all remaining four sections are far off from completion and nobody seems bothered right now. Frequent enhancements in toll tax for such a minacious highway have no justification at all and it seems government is charging money to send commuters to death trap. GoI is targeting to achieve 40 km per day highway construction but nine long years and still counting to build around three hundred kilometers speaks about real intent and ground reality. With scheduled closure of this highway once a week for army convoys and remaining days eight to nine hours unscheduled ones due to landslides with the resultant traffic jams and in between if any of vehicle breaks down due to road conditions it effectively turns into a nightmare for any commuter. With soaring Jammu-Srinagar air fares beyond a common man’s reach, it’s the time for Government to intervene. Administration should wake up immediately and set a deadline for NHAI to complete the remaining portion before onset of monsoon on war footing. Government cannot be a mute spectator to the mess they have created or else air entitlements of all officials be withdrawn for a week so that they can feel the pain and hardship common man is suffering. It seems no planning, least expertise, no accountability and who is bothered attitude has brought Kashmir’s jugular vein, NH44 to a choking point.


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