Meaningful focus on roads

Better road connectivity is a barometer of prosperity
Here it makes sense to reproduce the parliamentary standing committee’s recommendation to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways after concluding their visit to the J&K region.
Here it makes sense to reproduce the parliamentary standing committee’s recommendation to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways after concluding their visit to the J&K region. Special arrangement

Let me begin today’s column with a popular saying: ‘Time is money’. Everything revolves around time. Those who make best use of time, emerge as successful in the journey of life. And those who don’t show respect to time are lost in oblivion.

When we look at the relation of time with the people of our region (Jammu & Kashmir), particularly Kashmir, we observe a huge gap between the two. We have been unable to make most of the time available with us and most of the time we have found ourselves short of time. In other words, we have usually failed to capitalize on the bounties of time.

There are many factors, which have resulted in wastage of time. However, let us pick the road connectivity, which is in news today as Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, was here to take stock of the development of road infrastructure in the region.

Here, the road connectivity has been in shambles for decades and continues as one of the major impediments to achieve desired economic growth. We have the kind of roads where small distances, which are normally covered in 15 minutes, take even two hours for commuters. It is a nightmare experience to travel on the shabby roads and people lose most of the productive hours in travel.

Precisely, be it urban, sub-urban or a rural locality, most of the roads available are in dilapidated condition and trigger huge traffic jams resulting in wastage of working hours.

Remarkably, some two years back, it was a shot in the arm when a parliamentary panel on a visit to J&K recommended to the Centre that it must place special focus on the maintenance of roads in the Jammu & Kashmir region.

Here it makes sense to reproduce the parliamentary standing committee’s recommendation to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways after concluding their visit to the J&K region.

“The Committee is of the considered view that the Ministry must place special focus on the maintenance of roads in the Jammu and Kashmir region, since the region needs good connectivity throughout the year, from both economic as well as strategic viewpoint. A well-connected, well maintained road network would spur economic activities and further the tourism prospects of the region. The Committee, therefore, recommends the Ministry to ensure sufficient budgetary provisions for this purpose.”         

Meanwhile, in the last couple of years, Jammu & Kashmir is witnessing concerted efforts on the economic front to bring vibrancy in the economic landscape of the region. This time the focus has rightly been on the development of roads and tunnels.

The Government of India has given a big push to road infrastructure, and as disclosed by the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, the Centre is spending Rs 1 lakh crore to build highways and tunnels in Jammu and Kashmir.

Just a few days back, LG Sinha along with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, reviewed the progress of Z-Morh tunnel and Zojila tunnel projects. Notably, Z-Morh Tunnel, as per the tunnel authorities, would be completed by October 2023, after which Sonamarg would remain open round the year. The completion of these tunnels would be a shot in the arm of local economy.

In a geographically remote location like J&K, the road infrastructure assumes greater significance and if we look at the past, the region has always been craving for good road connectivity.

In this regard, the statement of Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, that J&K’s road infrastructure would be developed at par with the US in the next three to four years is heartening. He informed that 500 km of new roads had been constructed in J&K from 2014 to 2023.

Remarkably, 1700 km of roads are being constructed in J&K at a cost of Rs 75,000 crore. Besides, as stated by the minister, around 41 important tunnels with a length of 133 km are being constructed in J&K and Ladakh at a cost of Rs 45,000 crore and 18 ropeways will be constructed in the region at a cost of Rs 5000 crore. It’s worth mentioning that the construction of five more tunnels on Srinagar – Jammu highway will reduce the distance to 3 hours.

The above statistics reflecting the pace of development of road infrastructure in J&K indicate that there would be a meaningful impact on the socio-economic sector of the region, will give a huge push to the tourism sector and generate employment opportunities at a large scale.

Remarkably, the tourism sector has been playing a captain’s role in J&K’s economy as it makes an enormous contribution to the local economies through job creation and sustainable development.

It is the largest service industry in the region and is significantly contributing to the GDP. It earns foreign exchange for the country, provides widespread employment, and yields tax revenue. Its Pilgrimage tourism provides an extra boost to the region’s economy.        

J&K has a lot of unexplored tourist destinations and loading these natural tourist destinations with state-of-the-art infrastructure and improving road connectivity can revolutionise not only the local economies but also the overall economic activities in the region.

Sound and convenient road connectivity is by all means a growth generating initiative and leads people to prosperity. Most common demand of the people all round the globe has been the road connectivity. People protest to have better road connectivity to reach places in the shortest possible time.

There is also an urgent need to lay emphasis on increasing the road links between rural and urban areas, as well as between cities in close proximity. This is extremely important if the benefits of development have to move beyond the limited confines of cities to our vast hinterland; so that the people in far flung areas particularly those toiling class also become partners in progress. There is also a need to draft a model act and provide a budgetary provision for road safety and the road quality should be maintained at all costs to reduce traffic hazards and accidents.

Let us understand this fact that smooth road connectivity between rural and urban centres within the region will have a far-reaching implications for poverty reduction as this will lead to improvement in income generating opportunities.

The focus should simultaneously be on connecting the growth centres to markets. The feeder roads should connect the growth centre with tehsil and district headquarters and arterial road system or provide a link from one growth centre to another.   

Reviving rural J&K through a massive rural road connection and rehabilitation programme as part of the overall connectivity strategy will have a large payoff by way of peace dividends.         

We have a precedence here that new works/projects are taken up in hand without completing the old projects and one of the things which mars the success of projects here is the poor quality of the constructional works and their completion not in time. The authorities have to have a close look at these issues. Emphasis should be on timely completion of such projects with quality works.

Meanwhile, there is a need to obtain data showing the number of vehicles plying on the roads. Alarming increase in vehicular traffic on roads needs to be captured to arrive at a perfect road connectivity and maintenance plan. In fact, such data is imperative for any road upgradation.

A statewide vehicle survey should be undertaken to understand the dynamics of the sector so that tour roadways can gear up for the present as well as the future demands.

In short, the improvements and expansions in road connectivity will generate the pace of economic activity in the region. As the movement of people from places to places will be swift, it will automatically lead to utilisation of maximum time for growth generating initiatives.

Precisely, sound and better road connectivity would serve as a barometer of prosperity.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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