The Mughal Road that would have provided an alternative link to Kashmir from the outside world has once again been closed as winters set in.
The 84-kilometre scenic stretch connects Kashmir with Jammu’s Poonch via southern Shopian district but remains open for traffic during summer months only. Heavy snowfall at several places including Peer Ki Gali and Bafliaz shuts it for at least six months.
“There has been a snowfall on the road making it slippery and hence we have decided to close it for traffic,” an official said.
He said as the winters have set in the heavy snowfall the stretch sees during this season would mean that the road will open somewhere in May next year only.
“The road can become all-weather and hence an alternate to Srinagar-Jammu national highway only if the proposed tunnel sees the light of the day,” the official said.
He said the project has not seen any progress for a decade despite repeated assurances by the government of India.
The people on either side are eager to see the project accomplished, believing that it would ease their miseries.
“The construction of the tunnel has been our long-pending demand but despite assurances by successive regimes, we have been let down every time, said Haroon Rashid, a teacher from Rajouri.
He said if the road becomes all-weather, it would certainly ease the miseries of people on both sides, which remain inaccessible due to harsh winters.
Ajaz Ahmad, a local scribe from Shopian said the tunnel would also increase inter-regional accessibility and also boost the economy of the regions.
“The essentials can also be routed through this route to ease the burden on the national highway,” he said.
The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDC) entrusted with the job of the tunnel had in March 2019 engaged Rodic Consultants Private Limited in a joint venture with Madrid based Getnisa-Euro studios to prepare DPR for the tunnel.
“Rodic started work on the DPR in August last year. However, until now it has only been able to submit a preliminary project assessment (PPR), nothing more than that,” an official in Mughal Road division told the Greater Kashmir.
The consultancy, he said, has estimated the cost of the project at approximately Rs 4000 crore.
“Since the work involved is complex and requires geotechnical expertise, it might take at least a year for completion of DPR if taken seriously. It is then for the government and public works department to take a call on its final approval,” an official said.
Though conceptualized decades ago, the road was opened for vehicles only in 2009.
In 2015, the PDP-BJP coalition government in its Common Minimum Program (CMP) put the construction of the tunnel as its top priority.
Later, the state’s roads and building ministry repeatedly took up the issue with the union ministry of roads, transport and highways (MORTH).
Following repeated pleas of the state government, NHIDCL in 2017 sought bids from eligible consultants for preparation of DPR and work out pre-construction activities for the tunnel.
However, the concessionaire suddenly put the tendering process on hold arguing that the MoRTH had not entrusted the project to it.
Days after the imposition of governor’s rule in the state in 2018, the NHIDC again invited proposals for construction of the tunnel.