Ever happened to travel on national highway from Srinagar to Jammu? If you have, you would have a first hand experience traveling for hours with difficulties of unnecessary traffic jams or road remaining cut due to natural cause; be it summer or winter. Mostly the highway is closed for days during winters due to heavy snowfall and the resulting landslides and avalanches.
The highway (NH 44) with a total length of around 300 kms, lies in the Kashmir valley for the first 68 km (up to Qazigund), then passes through a series of dangerous mountains up to Jammu. It’s well known as the lifeline to Kashmir valley as most of the foods, vegetables and other life saving essentials are transported through this highway from Jammu to Srinagar.
Attesting to the notoriety of the 300-odd kilometres road, the Srinagar-Jammu highway — the only major road link connecting Kashmir to rest of the world — has reported over 8,000 road accidents in the last decade that caused nearly 1,800 fatalities, official data have revealed.
As per the data compiled by the J&K Traffic Police Department and District Police Ramban, the Srinagar-Jammu highway reported a total of 8,128 accidents between 2010 to 2020 that led to 1,750 deaths and 12,131 injuries. The treacherous stretch from Banihal to Chanderkote in particular has been the most fatal witnessing 858 deaths as per the data. The authorities witnessing this since ages seem to be mute spectators; turn deaf ears to inconvenience faced by a large group commutators and travellers mostly ill, aged and women.
Recently a very close relative of ours left for heavenly abode. As my family had gone to Jammu, as most of the Kashmiri are following the unknown tradition to flee for warmer weather and live there for 3 to 4 months till harsh winter is over here in Kashmir. The news came to us like a bolt from the blue. As those days the NH was closed because at Kela Mord the road was damaged due to landslides. No option by road! No rail link, as the rail connection is yet to be established to Kashmir from Jammu. The project languishing since a decade. My father went in a hurry to confirm if the air transport was functional. But to his surprise, even the airport, the International Airport, is not in a position to receive flights in winters. The other day air transport was cleared and my family boarded a plane to Srinagar.
The highway closure especially affects the traders dealing with livestock, fruits and vegetables while sheep and chicken die when trucks get stranded on the highway, fruits and vegetables turn stale. On top of that, truckers carrying goods are unnecessarily stopped at different places for security force convoys to pass and and other routine maintenance despite having full day a week meant for maintenance and repair.
For decades now, the status of the national highway has remained the same. In fact, even a minor spell of rain or snow leads to suspension of traffic on the highway these days. The government has not only failed to make the Srinagar-Jammu an all-weather road, but it has also failed to provide us with alternatives. Every year Vailoo – Singhpora Tunnel, which was thought to be an all weather route between Jammu and Srinagar via Kokernag is yet to be finalized. Not only will it cut the distance but will prove best possible highway for all weather connectivity. Therefore, the government should take steps on war-footing to ensure all-weather connectivity to Srinagar. Infrastructure at the Srinagar airport, too, requires an upgrade for the operation of night flights….because at times, Kashmir gets cut off through air as well as road.
Imran Gani Mugloo is a teacher by profession