Traders have demanded all-weather connectivity between Kashmir and the rest of the country as the frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu National Highway has hit them hard.
The highway was closed for traffic intermittently for more than 30 days in the past five months, which created shortage of essentials and led to price hike in the Valley. The situation turned worse when the government banned civilian traffic on the highway for two days a week in April month. Now the restrictions have almost been done away with but still the civilian vehicles cannot move on the highway once in a week on Sundays to facilitate the “smooth movement” of the security forces convoy.
President Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries Sheikh Ashiq said the highway traffic ban and its frequent closure dealt a “double whammy” to businesses in Kashmir. He said that freight has increased manifold and markets have been hit by shortage of goods. “We have taken up this issue with the Governor. Let us see what happens. The business community is having a tough time,” he said.
Chairman Kashmir Economic Alliance Muhammad Yaseen Khan said it was “a shame on part of the government” that Kashmir didn’t get an all-weather road in the past seven decades. Besides frequent closure of the highway and the traffic ban, Khan blamed “mismanagement by authorities” for the mess.
“Now even a brief drizzle results in the highway closure. We believe it is being done deliberately to marginalize Kashmir’s economy,” he said and demanded that the work on Mughal Road should be expedited to provide an alternative road link to Kashmir.
The business community has, over the years, been dismayed by inordinate delay in either starting or finishing several important projects that could have eased the connectivity issues, such as expansion of Srinagar airport, railway connectivity, four-lanning of Srinagar-Jammu highway and construction of Mughal Road tunnel.
In 2017, the Airport Authority of India announced expansion of Srinagar Airport so that it could facilitate operation of flights even during low visibility as the expansion also envisioned installation of updated instrumentation landing system which guides aircraft in landing and taking off during low visibility.
“But despite passing of two years since the announcement project is yet to be completed, meaning that whenever the visibility at the airport goes below 1000 metre mark, the operation of flights come to a halt,” said a senior AAI official.
It is pertinent to mention that in last one month over 130 flights were cancelled, at the same time airfares have skyrocketed costing fortunes to travel from Srinagar to any other part of the country.
Similarly, the lone surface link is awaiting construction of tunnels at several places to make it all weather.
However, the project has missed several deadlines due to “lackadaisical” approach of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
This project was divided into six sub-projects, widening of Srinagar-Qazigund road (68-Kms), Qazigund-Banihal (16-Kms), Banihal-Ramban (36-Kms), Ramban-Udhampur (43-Kms), Chenani–Nashri (12-Kms), Jammu-Udhampur (65-Kms).
According to NHAI official, work on the Jammu side is complete, while the areas which along the highway which are prone to landslides are still awaiting upgradation and construction of tunnels to make it all weather route.
Similarly in the age of technology, the Kashmir is still bereft of railway connectivity.
A railway line up to Udhampur on Jammu side, which has boosted industrial sector there, was completed a long ago but rail network sanctioned in 1995, which would connect Kashmir with other states, is still far from completion.
In the past 24 years, this project has faced cost overrun of over Rs 25000 crore. Its estimated cost at the start was only Rs 2500 crore.
Similarly, the tunnel on Mughal road is still on papers making this road also prone to weather vagaries.