MUGHAL ROAD: Passing through hope and despair
FAHEEM ASLAM/GOWHAR BHAT
Pir-Ki-Gali, Oct 22: There is a robust hope that the 84-kms-long Mughal Road carries all along. And there is a moment of despair in between that casts its shadow on the hope that, in near future, people would see the historic way connecting Kashmir with rest of the world.
The hope is evident as you move along the road from its Zero Point, technically referred to as the starting point, in south Kashmir’s Shopian district to Pir-Ki-Gali—41 kms from Shopian.
In the first place, the large-scale excavation amply reflects the enormity of the work that the executing agency—the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC)—has done in the past five years or so. The journey also shows the amount of work that it has to do before throwing the road open for all types of traffic.
This time around, the work on the road is on in full-swing, though it had to be ‘suspended temporarily’ in the wake of unrest in the Valley. Dozens of excavators and labourers are seen working on the road, marked by captivating serenity, which an official hoarding near Drobjan describes as: “They have called it half way to heaven and we have made the approach road.”
The shepherds are having a free ride on Mughal Road almost daily, though it, according to officials, affects the work on the project sometimes.
The serenity of the place, however, doesn’t give an idea of how much work has exactly been done on the project and how much is left to be done. If anything indicates that, it is leftover work and the amount of excavation that has been carried out to make the road motorable for official vehicles—and of, course a few private cars too—as on date.
The signs and the magnitude of the ‘blasting’ work are visible on the road from the beginning itself. The through-cut excavation has turned the leftover portions too curvy and sharp. It has left behind isolated trees which seem to be falling on the road. The rocks and stones, of all shapes and sizes, are scattered in abundance around the way, indicating the labour and time that it would have consumed to do the blasting of hard-rock portions.
Mughal Road is just passing through a landscape of sorts.
The lush-green forests and bottle-green meadows captivate your mind for a moment. The zig-zag ride, mostly bumpy due to the dilapidated road and the remaining macadamization work, takes you to the hope that people have attached to the completion of the historic road, which was used by the Mughal rulers and emperors hundreds of years ago.
“We want this road to be thrown open for traffic, once and for all,” says Bashir Ahmad of Surankote Poonch, who runs a makeshift grocery at Pir-Ki-Gali—the centre point of the Mughal Road. “It (the road) would lead to economic prosperity of Kashmir and Jammu regions. There would be trade and people-to-people contact. We hope to see the traffic playing on the road soon.”
The urgency to see the road open can be gauged from the fact that though it is yet to be thrown open for civil traffic, a few light motor vehicles ferry passengers to Poonch and Rajouri from Shopian and vice-versa.
For nomads, the road means a blessing. “Every year we cross the risky Pir Panchal by foot with our migratory sheep herds and other animals during summer. In 2005, a number of families lost their livestock due to snow while crossing the Pir Panchal. We will be over with the problem once the road is complete,” said a shepherd.
At the moment, half of the macadamization work has been completed on either side of the road while another half is yet to be completed. The double-lane excavation work is almost complete, barring a few kilometers. About 40 kms of ‘Granular Sub-base’ is yet to be achieved. While 33 kms of pavement works have already been done, 50 kms is still remaining.
“We want to see the project complete in all respects as soon as possible,” said the HCC Project Manager, Col. Matthew Marcus. “But we can’t compromise on the quality of the work. Initially we had the problem of delay on account of the clearance against the Wildlife Sanctuary which falls along the road. After that we had the problem of the Amarnath Land row and the Shopian issue. That also affected the work. And this year too we had the problem of unrest. So all this would obviously affect the overall execution of the project.”
The foundation stone of the project was laid by the former Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad along with his then coalition partner, Mufti Muhammad Sayyed on 1st October 2005. The project had to be completed within a span of three years, excluding the additional work, which officially demanded two more years.
Five years have already passed but the work is still incomplete, though in progress. The “delay” in execution of the project is disappointing the stakeholders who have run into despair.
“Opening the road would give a fillip to trade across the Pir Panchal,” says Bashir. But there is nobody to say with surety as to when the project would be complete in all respects, though 2011 and 2012 is now being set as the new deadline.
Apart from the official reasons, politics and myths seem to have affected the prestigious project to a great extent. There is no full-fledged Minister for Roads and Buildings to look after the project, after the disgraceful exit of the former R&B Minister, GM Saroori. This time the Chief Minister is unable to give adequate time to the Ministry in the wake of “other engagements.”
“There are vested interests which don’t want the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir to be connected with Kashmir Valley,” says an officer, who was formerly associated with the Mughal Road construction. “But if the road is completed, it would boost the economy of all the regions in Jammu and Kashmir. Unless everyone overcomes the fears and apprehensions that have been associated with the project unnecessarily, it would be difficult to execute it. It has already seen a lot of delay.”
The Mughal Road is the name given to the track which passes from Buflaiz in Poonch district to the Shopian in south Kashmir via the Pir Panjal mountain range. The caravans of Mughal emperors, Shah Jehan and others used the road to travel to Kashmir during the 16th century.
The idea of the new Mughal Road was conceived in 1950s with an aim of improving the connectivity with the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu division. Though the project was taken up in late ’70s without any significant work being done, the construction of road under Mughal Road project was started in October 2005 and the project was handed over to Hindustan Construction Company (HCC).
The road passes through Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary. In May 2006, a Public Interest Litigation was filed against the constriction of road since “it would impact and inhibit the movement of wild animals, mainly the endangered Markhor.”
The Supreme Court cleared the PIL on July 27, 2007 and also provided the environmental clearance.
1969: Notified under Shopian-
1977: Taken up for execution
1985: Formal nod accorded
1990: Work stopped ‘due to turmoil’
1998: PM IK Gujral announces
2004: Road sanctioned under PMRP
2005: Azad, Mufti lay foundation
Lastupdate on : Fri, 22 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 22 Oct 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Oct 2010 00:00:00 IST
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