Road to Death

Hasib Ahmed
Different names have been given to this unfortunate Doda region of J&K. some call it as Chota Kashmir others call it as unexplored heaven on earth but this neglected region has now turned into a death zone due to the frequent landslides and road accidents. There is tremendous scope for tourism potential in this region but this road of death is always awaiting for tragedy to take place and is posing a great threat to tourism industry of this region. How can we expect the arrival of tourists to such a region where a constant fear of danger is always lurking over the head. The ugly condition of this road is the source of discouragement for the better quality of teachers and doctors. The poor people who are mainly dependent upon government hospitals, schools and colleges are thus at their receiving end.
The entire Chenab valley has become tragedy stricken zone of Jammu & Kashmir. There is hardly any week when we don’t witness a mishap on this stretch of National Highway1B. Losses of precious human lives due to frequent road accident and frequent landslides have become order of the day. Height of negligence is that even the loss of human lives have not awakened the authority at the helm of affairs and this region is being neglected as if human beings are not living here. It has exposed the tall claims, efficiency and vision of those who claim themselves to be the peoples’ representatives and planners. Now need of hour is that unless a united voice is raised by the people of entire Chenab Valley none can stop this death road from eating additional human lives. There should be a collective demand for international tender for this zone of National Highway 1B because we have given decades of time to our own construction agencies that have proved their mettle in making this zone a death zone. If we give another chance to our own construction agencies/companies it will be like to do the same mistake twice.
Deadly road of Batote -Doda has taken many precious lives to the eternal sleep. This stretch of highway remains blocked frequently whenever a little rainfall takes place. State administration is least bothered about the pathetic condition of roads of entire Chenab valley. This Chenab valley had already become the causality in the way of exploiting the hydroelectric potential. If we take into account the costs & benefits of Bhagliar Hydroelectric Project it becomes clear that it has rendered thousands of people homeless and benefit of this hydroelectric potential is not reaped by the people of this region who own this precious resource and are bearing only costs. This region is like ‘Chirag Talle Andhera’ which enlightens the other regions of this country by supplying electricity and lives itself in dark. Resource of any kind is considered a key to development but contrary to this universal fact the resource of hydroelectric potential of Chenab Valley has not been proved bliss but a curse for the entire Chenab valley. This landslide and sinking of land in the mighty river of Chenab has become daily routine since the creation of dam besides the ecological imbalance which has caused frequent rainfall. There is laymans perception that frequent rainfall in the Chenab valley is due to the construction of dam which has stopped the water flow and volume of water has expanded. The air over the expanded volume of water contains more moisture and when winds blow towards land it carries moisture with it. Lofty mountains at upper reaches cause obstruction to the winds and cause the air to rise and thus rainfall takes place. This is merely a layman theory proved by the fact that before the completion of dam frequent rainfall did not take place. This Chenab Valley was already neck deep to the countless troubles and turmoil in the form of unemployment, poverty, draught areas etc and creation of dam, landslides & frequent rainfall has snow-balled the entire Chenab Valley into the disastrous  happening.
Unfortunately this stretch of National Highway1B is the only road which connects this landlocked region with the rest of the state. There are other unknown links also for example Sinthan Top of Kishtwar which connects this region with Kashmir and Bani-Basoli 166 KM road which connects Bhadarwah with Kathua District. But decades have passed we get surety of opening of Bani-Basoli Road only during elections. Had this Bani-Basoli Road been opened it would have acted as an alternate road to reach Jammu. The incidence of landslides is increasing and the loss of life and the property have also increased and more areas have come under the vulnerable category which was considered safer earlier in this stretch of NH1B. The increasing trend of the landslides incidences and recurrences along the highways is quite alarming and raise concerns regarding the stability of landslide areas along this highway and the potential impact to the safety of the travelling public, infrastructure and property. This has aggravated the problems of the concerned agencies, mainly the Border Roads Organization who looks after most of the roads in difficult hilly terrains of the country.
There is a need for some permanent solution for this road. The temporary measures i.e. clearing the debris and widening the roads by cutting the slopes of mountain make this region prone to further landslides.
Efforts of BRO and state government have been proved merely a Zero Sum Game. Hence there is only one solution for saving the precious lives of human being that is International Tender. Only the construction company of international repute can find the permanent solution to  this stretch of Batote-Doda-Kishtwar-Bhadarwah road. Solution is there but it requires the political will and it should be kept in mind that saving of precious lives is more important than the loss which may accrue to our local contractor if international construction companies are invited. When Pull Doda sank in the mighty Chenab, alternative 12 KM death road was constructed via Paryout and steep area of Pull Doda for their economic interests which was having alternate option of 5 KM safe road upon which construction has started now but money minded plan  is least bothered about precious lives of human being.
Authorities at the helm have shown such helplessness as if road of Batote-Doda is the only road in the world lying in the hilly region and solution of which is impossible. How the threat of deadly roads of Norway was turned to the opportunity by making improvement of par excellence and have turned their deadly roads into  tourist destinations and has put question mark upon the vision of our leaderships and planners. Guoliang Tunnel was dug between two villages in China. The tunnel is about 4000 meters and is 16 meters high and 13 wide and has also carved in the wall windows, where you have overwhelming view of the entire landscape. This is one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
Every time a tragedy strikes, huge amount of budgetary funds are pumped into the rehabilitation and restoration works. By the time the tragedy stricken areas are rehabilitated, monsoon reappears again and this vicious process repeats again and again. The restoration and rehabilitation process never gets completed and an unimaginable sum of tax payers’ money washes off without much fruitful results. The cost on direct losses such as the costs of repair and maintenance, restoration, rehabilitation or the replacement of the damaged properties is met out of maintenance budget allocated for the whole year excluding such exigencies; as a result, overall maintenance of the roads is also affected. The frequent and long duration blockade of national highways in critical landslide locations create social unrest amongst the communities living at both the sides of the blockade location because of their inability to attend  social obligations, hardship in reaching the destinations through the tougher and longer alternate routes, inability to provide medical aids to the critical patients, steep hike in prices of the commodities, inability to run their business etc. These scenes with series of sufferings are repeated during every rainfall.
Hence there is only one silver line over the dark horizons of Chenab Valley that this road should be constructed by any reputed International agency.