Weather vagaries, landslides hamper Mughal Road construction
ARIF SHAFI WANI
Mansar (Poonch), June 23: A long awaited project to connect Kashmir with outside world through historic Mughal Road is up against a challenge of different kind this time. If it was inordinate delay on part of Government in the past, nature has emerged as a major hurdle now.
Frequent landslides and hostile weather are putting a brake on Government’s proposal to set traffic rolling on the road by 2013.
With the State Government having little to offer to overcome the weather hostility, it is now mulling to rope in outside experts to set the project on track.
Passing through towering mountains of Pir Panchal, pastures and lush forests, the 83.90 km Mughal Road will join Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu. Slated to be completed by 2013, the multi-crore rupees project has been facing many bottlenecks since its inception in 2005.
An on-the-spot assessment of the road reveals that the frequent landslides have affected major construction works mainly from Shopian in Kashmir to Mansar in Poonch. Officials said the landslides are triggered by frequent rains and heavy construction works near the steep Karewas.
“The landslides are a challenging situation for us but the Government is committed to address the problem and revive the historic route,” the Minister of State for Roads and Buildings, Javid Ahmad Dar told Greater Kashmir while reviewing works on the Mughal Road on Wednesday.
Pointing towards the towering landslide prone hill slope near Mansar in Poonch district, Dar remarked, “We are fighting with nature. The engineers told me that the mountains through which we are constructing the roads mostly comprise of unstable hill slopes which are bound to trigger landslides till they settle. But we have to move on. We will explore alternative arrangements like construction of bridges or give diversions at the places which are more prone to landslides.”
A major chunk of the road has been washed away at Dubjan in Shopian due to unregulated flow of waters from nearby hillock. At some stretches along the Sukh Sarai, the waters have extensively damaged newly constructed road. However, despite all the challenges Dar exudes hope that the road will be completed before the deadline.
“This road has immense social, cultural and economical importance for Kashmir and Jammu regions. We will leave no stone unturned not only to complete the road, but make it a model,” Dar said while looking at the maps defining targets for the project.
The historic inter-regional road link would not only considerably reduce travel distance from Poonch to Kashmir or vice-versa but also serve as dependable alternative to Srinagar-Jammu Highway, which usually remains closed due to heavy snowfall during winters.
At the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Ahmad Karim near Peer Ki Gali, Dar and his team of engineers and officials offered prayers for successful completion of the project. The minister ordered construction of a Sarai for devotees and travelers and announced to develop it as a tourism and pilgrimage spot.
“This area receives heavy rainfall on an average every day forcing suspension of works. The rains also damage our construction works besides triggering landslides. In winter, no work is possible due to heavy snowfall. Despite working in a difficult terrain and hostile weather even in this season, our engineers and laborers are working hard to accomplish the task. We will be inviting experts from across the country for management of landslides for smooth construction and maintenance of the road,” said the Chief Engineer Mughal Road Project, Bimal Tikoo.
Spelling out the achievements, Tikoo said out of the total project cost of Rs 639.85 crores, nearly 429 crores have been spent so far. “Nearly 2100 people including engineers, labourers, technicians are working on the project. Last year we opened the road for light vehicular traffic. By next month, we will complete the granular base of the road. And till October, the road will be macadamized. However, we would leave the landslide prone areas till they settle or are treated. We are optimistic to meet the 2013 deadline,” Tikoo said.
The minister, however, directed the officials to expedite the work. “You should devise the work schedule according to the weather. If it rains in afternoon, you should start work early morning. We have to utilize every second. You have to take this project as a mission,” Dar told the officials while assuring to provide 10 percent incentives to the engineers associated with the project.
Dr Shakeel Romshoo, Associate Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Kashmir University said the karewas and hill slopes along the Mughal Road have become unstable.
“There has been extensive deforestation in the area for past many decades. As a result, the karewas and steep hill slopes have become devoid of any vegetation. The road cutting and blasting makes the karewas and slopes vulnerable to landslides,” Romshoo said.
Romshoo recommended engineering and non-engineering measures including afforestation, construction of check dams, culverts, retaining walls to check the problem.
“The concerned authorities should identity the causes of landslides and use the measures accordingly. Sustained measures can help to at least minimize the landslides,” he added.
Pertinently, the caravans of Mughal emperors used this 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.
Owing to its historic importance, the then chief minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah formed a project in 1977 to construct the road. He named it Mughal Road Project. However, due to lack of funds and subsequent turmoil in the Valley since 1989, the project could not take off.
The Mughal Road has missed many deadlines since its inception. The project at an estimated cost of Rs 255 crores was revived in 2005 during the Congress-PDP alliance. But the delays since 2006 escalated the cost and it was revised to Rs. 639.85 crores to facilitate construction of double-lane, seven major bridges, 21 minor bridges and 263 culverts.
But due to opposition by some environmentalists and wildlife conservation groups, the project witnessed a roller coaster ride. It was after thorough surveys and deliberations that the Supreme Court allowed the road’s construction on the condition that the State government will take measures for wildlife conservation.
The road’s construction got a boost after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah drove through it in November 2009. Last year the Government organised a car rally on Mughal Road to boost tourism and popularize the historic route.
Lastupdate on : Thu, 23 Jun 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 23 Jun 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 24 Jun 2011 00:00:00 IST
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