Over 40 yrs period too short to connect Billawar directly with Bani

Work on Bhini bridge at Katli awaits completion.
Work on Bhini bridge at Katli awaits completion.

Strategic vital link to Dhar Defence Road ignored

*Rs 25 cr project under CRF awaits Govt nod for 3 yrs

Gopal Sharma

BILLAWAR (Kathua) , July 5: Over 40 years period to connect Bani Sub Division directly with Billawar via Katli and Taggar appeared to be too short for the PW(R&B) Department as the work on this road project goes on at snail’s pace with no accountability and proper monitoring by the higher officials in the Administration, while Rs 25 crore project under CRF to connect the remaining last 6 kms portion of this road at Dera Galli Pass, yet awaits Government nod.

Katli-Dera Gali road self speaks about its condition.
Katli-Dera Gali road self speaks about its condition.

Official sources told the ‘Excelsior’ that work on this vital road with additional connectivity to remote Lohai- Malhar area was commenced during early 1980s. The pace of work under PW(R&B) was so slow that it failed to ensure proper road connectivity even up to Katli which is hardly 19 km from Billawar additional district headquarters in two decades. The condition of this road is so worst that it appears no maintenance work has been done by the agency for the years together. Right from its entry point at Billawar town, large potholes and broken spaces are visible on this road and it goes on through out the road up to Katli despite the fact that PMGSY authorities spent huge funds worth over Rs 15 crores on upgradation and black- topping of the Katli road hardly three years ago, putting big question mark on the quality of work executed by the agency.
While with the poor performance and past track record of the agency, it apears that the road connectivity between the remote area of Bani with Billawar via Katli, Taggar and Duggan is still a distant dream for the population of over 60,000 souls. However, PW(R&B) authorities claimed that connectivity to Bani via Katli from Billawar will be restored by next two or maximum three years, if Government clears Rs 25 crore road project under CRF this year for last 6 kms patch. It said on 6 kms road project from Chew towards Deri Galla the work was in progress and on 2 kms stretch earth work has been completed. The work on remaining 4 kms is suspended due to Forest clearance issue. So, middle 10 kms stretch on either side of Deri Galla has remained unconnected so far on this nearly 65 kms road.
Another major road block on this road so far is vital bridge over river Bhini at Katli which has been allotted to private agency M/s AK Constructions of Jammu. Hardly 40% work has been done on this bridge so far being constructed with the estimated cost of Rs 11.5 crores. This 120 mt long concrete double lane bridge is expected to be complected by March next year. The work on this bridge was earlier taken up about 14 years ago but the work was abandoned. Later, under languishing project the work was taken up on this bridge during 2019 and 18 months time has been given to the contractor for its completion.
Sources revealed that if this strategic road is connected with Billawar Sub Division from Bani side, it will provide a direct link to the Dhar Defence Road, leading to Northern Command headquarters (at Udhampur) from Pathankot side, and another one from Basohli-Bani-Bhaderwah-Doda Defence road side. But unfortunately, this vital strategic road has remained neglected for decades by the Defence and Civil Administration. Not only this, the new road link between Bani and Jammu via Billawar would reduce nearly 55 kms distance as compared to existing road via Basohli. And if this road is handed over to BRO/GREF, as strategic alternate Defence road, it can provide vital connectivity to this mountainous Bhaderwah-Doda-Kishtwar- Anantnag in J&K and even Chamba district, Kallar Sub Division of Pangi and Kelong in (Lahoul Spiti), in Himachal Pradesh.
Sources said while the work from Billawar-Katli side was started about four decades ago, from Bani to Duggan- Taggar road it was launched during 1997-98. The first six kms patch was taken up from Bani side by R&B but a very slow pace of work was witnessed on this patch even for long. Over 12 years were taken by the agency to complete work on this small patch. Even ahead of that PMGSY agency’s work remained very slow during past two decades. Now, for the last few years the work has gained some momentum. The locals felt that due to poor representation, this remotest area of Kathua district, always remained most neglected in every respect.
Som Raj and Ram Lal from Chew Panchayat said if this road is connected, it would open gates to the most beautiful and unexposed areas like Chew, Deri Galla, Khundar in Katli and Taggar belt, having vast tourism potential. There are large meadows with thick Deodhar forests in the surrounding besides nallas of cold water. They said good road is vital for the tourism promotion and raising economy of that area.
Naib Sarpanch, Sanjay Kumar at Katli and Sarpanch Chew /Madoon, Kamlesh Kumari said the work on this road from Katli to Dera Gali has been abandoned for the last over two years due to the reason best known to the PWD people. They said huge funds have been spent on the road but only earth work has been done on this 11 kms road patch from Katli to Chew. On next two kms also, only earth work has been done. No retaining walls, breast walls, culverts or even side drains have been constructed. No mettling work has been done on this nearly 13 kms road except initial first 2-3 km stretch. The road is very narrow and at some curves even tractor trolley or truck can not move in first go. There is strong need to conduct physical audit of this road and the funds spent so far, there will be great mismatch, they added.
Executive Engineer, PMGSY Billawar, Kamal Sharma when contacted said Billawar -Katli road was completed with blacktopping over three years ago. He said as per contract agreement, contractor ( S K Vaid) has to initiate repair/ maintenance work on this road but he is not doing it. With this large potholes have been developed on the surface. He said department would handover work to some other contractor and impose penalty on the contactror. At present he has moved to the court, he added.
Another official revealed that for blacktopping and upgrdation work on Billawar- Katli road Rs 14.88 core was spent in two phases and the work was complected in 2018. From Billawar to Kishanpur and from Katli onward, the road is lying with R&B and they have to execute maintenance work. He said from Bani side also most of the road length is with PMGSY up to Taggar (26 kms) and Tamaan (31 kms), but in between nearly 10 kms area has been left out. He said nearly 7 kms road is Pucca from Bani side and rest of the road is still `Kucha’ but it is metteled and motorable. The Duggan block headquarters which is nearly 16 kms from Bani is already connected but vehicle can ply up to Tamaan which is about 5 kms from Taggar, he added.
Executive Engineer, R&B Division Basohli, Rajesh Sumbria said that from Billawar side, the road up to Katli is under PMGSY wing. It is `Pucca’ and they will maintain it as per the contract agreement. He said from Katli onwards, 11 kms road project with the cost of Rs 8.45 crore was sanctioned during 2006-7 under CRF and the cutting work has been completed. This road is fair weather but motorable. Next 6 kms road project up to Deri Gala has been sanctioned under CRF with the cost of Rs 15 crores and cutting work on nearly 2 kms of patch has been completed. For remaining next 6 kms, Rs 25 crore project under CRF has been sent to Government and it awaits sanction for the last three years. If this project is cleared Bani will be connected with Billawar in next two or maxium three years. He said Forest clearance is also major issue ahead of Chew village and Deri Galla area and the matter has been taken up with Forest authorities.