Terrible Kashmir roads!

Roads are the most vital component of infrastructure and important measure of growth and development of a society. Better roads represent the real health of a nation and the pace of its development. In modern times with rapid modernization of the transport system, the importance of roads, particularly the improved and safe roads becomes essential. During the last more than a decade, the road network in the whole subcontinent has improved significantly. Indian roads have entered into a new era of transformation and expansion. By its standards and importance, Kashmir also got its share. However, as always the harsh winters, short working season and the political turmoil play a negative role in infrastructure development in the valley. And Kashmir roads are the worst hit on this front!

Anyways, politics and severe winters apart this time the Kashmir roads relate a very different story of despair, destruction, and negligence. A longer than usual spell of winters have exposed the working mechanism, technology and above all the integrity of our works department. The present pathetic condition of Kashmir roads especially the roads in Srinagar speak volumes about our outdated technology of road laying and the capability of the engineering department and the engineers in particular. No one should take these hard facts otherwise. We have to accept we are using outdated technology that too through raw hands. And this is not a blame game but failure of the whole system of infrastructure development and maintenance.

Back to the valley roads. A simple walk or ride through Srinagar streets will reveal the failing health of our roads. The zigzag walks and rollercoaster rides make you feel as if you are deep into the African jungles with concrete flora and metallic fauna. These roads seem no better than primitive mired pathways of ancient times with muddy potholes, scattering sludge and changing gradients with every travel that blatantly splash shame on our face. Fascinatingly, a birds-eye view will reveal the naughtiness of the classical dance of vehicles and pedestrians on these roads while eluding the potholes. And this Kathak dance ends either as worst traffic jams or fatal accidents. The exploding sludge from the exposed roads have by now clogged the adjoining drains, and accumulated rain-water aggravate the festering potholes with more severity. Amazingly, with the arrival of Darbar, the works department was seen collecting the muck from the storm drains on prominent Srinagar roads and face-lifting the pockmarks. If I remember rightly most of the valley, particularly, the Srinagar roads were done in between last summer and the fall. The supposed developmental work was going late until the onset of winter. So it is quite surprising how within a few months the situation became bad to worst instead of improving? The responsible authorities have to be answerable! Thank God floods have visited us almost four years back otherwise this road fury may have been very cunningly credited to flood disaster.

Obviously, and rightfully the stakeholders will refute these observations and cover up the matter in the technical nitty-gritty. For them, in the heart of Srinagar city, there is a visible case study—the road in front of Kashmir Poly-technique College gate. This narrow road is being used by most of the motorists as an alternate route from Ram Bagh bridge to the city center after work started on Ram Bagh Jahangir Chowk flyover. This road was covered with tar-mix only in the middle of the last year. With the arrival of winter and heavy snow and rains, the thin skinny blacktop gave way, and blistering road exposed the filth down below. Later the blisters left the entire stretch pockmarked with potholes and worst undulations [bumps]. The pathetic condition of this patch of the road dispels all the claims and provides a valid piece of proof regarding the failure of our infrastructure development system.

The administration must introspect and evaluate the data of spending on all road projects during the last financial year in accordance with the contractual obligations as envisaged in the tendering procedure and fix the responsibilities accordingly. Every project has to be assessed in light of the previous physical and financial achievements to maintain the highest standards of technical and financial accountability. The present pitiful roads provide a better opportunity to set a trend of honest and justifiable accountability in works particularly the road laying. Otherwise even after spending millions and possessing a huge team of technocrats, our infrastructure development progress will get stalled, and instead of running highly mechanized locomotives on roads we may have to bank upon the nineteenth-century bullock carts. The sooner we change the technology, introduce the highest levels of accountability and completely revamp the works department better it will be for our progress and development.