NH-44 four lane project: Catastrophic impact for Ramban

The region has become fragile due to unscientific cutting of slopes along the NH-44

Millions of taxpayer’s money has been wasted in undoing the damage caused by repeated landslides triggered by faulty planning and incompetent execution by the concerned companies working on NHAI.

Bureaucratic spaces in J&K are in deep slumber and blind to these catastrophic changes in the mountain environment. People are not against infrastructure development, but development at the cost of people’s lives is no development.

Ramban District of J&K is entirely mountainous, most of which is carved out through perpetual erosional work by mighty Chenab River and its tributaries. Mountain environments are characterised by sensitive ecosystems and increased occurrences of extreme weather events and natural catastrophes. One of the most prominent features of mountain environment is their steep topography.

Mountains often rise abruptly from surrounding lowlands, creating dramatic landscapes and providing opportunities for recreational activities. However, the steep slopes and fragile condition of Himalayan mountains especially in Ramban District, pose a number of challenges to human habitation, livelihood, development, and to the people traversing everyday through dilapidated roads. This includes high erosion, landslides, and difficulty in building infrastructure.

In the last decade, economic expansion in the form of road construction in young fold Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir has had a significant impact on mountain environment.

The construction of National Highway 44 four lane project in Ramban district has become the reason for rampant disasters and accidents. Due to lack of knowledge and planning NH-44 four lane project is constructed on unstable slopes resulting in frequent landslides which have doubled the exposure at many spots between Nashri tunnel and Banihal town.

Certainly, as a result of impromptu and unsustainable practices in the process of construction of strategic four lane road by National Authority of India (NHAI) especially, in last 5 years have triggered dangerous landslides, shooting stones and sinking of land at many spots. Living and traversing through such mountain environments have become dreadful for people because of multiple risks involved on everyday basis. 

The region has become fragile due to unscientific cutting of slopes along the NH-44 especially, near Cafeteria Morh, Ramban town, and as a common consequence, frequent landslides and blockage of strategic NH-44 road, and shooting stones risking lives and property.

Moreover, unscientific and unplanned construction of NH-44 four lane by NHAI in this entire stretch has caused colossal loss to the people living in Ramban District and erstwhile J&K. It has become even more challenging to the defence personnel, truck and commercial drivers and national and international tourists travelling through this region. 

Frequent accidents in the absence of safety measures have led to the devastation of several villages including one incident mentioned in my article, The Plight of Dalwas’ (GK, Aug 10, 2020), that destroyed 400 kanals of agricultural land and around 40 houses in the village.

Despite over three years have passed since the incident occurred, these sufferers are still waiting for compensation. No doubt, global warming poses more risk with climate change, excessive rainfall and melting glaciers. But disasters are not purely the consequence of natural events, also happens due to human intervention within the social, political and economic context of the surrounding. For instance casualties and damages are increasing along NH-44, where unsustainable practices are used for developing road infrastructure especially at exposed locations.

Millions of taxpayers' money has been wasted in reimbursing the damage caused by repeated landslides triggered by faulty planning and incompetent execution by the concerned companies engaged on sublet basis by NHAI. Even moderate rate of precipitation in the region brought by southwest monsoon (summer) and frontal system embedded in eastward moving winds (winter) creates landslides and mud slush of substantial amount, and are beyond comparison to the earlier landslides prior to four lane road construction.

The frequent landslides on the slopes of strategic NH-44 also results in repeated road blocks for several days, disrupting supply chains and there are no arrangements for stranded passengers. Meanwhile, traffic menace is caused on one of the busiest highways. When bulk traffic movement resumes it upsets thousands of people, especially patients in ambulances as there is no availability of air-ambulance even in exceptionally high road-accident prone area. In addition, Ramban town gets engulfed in clouds of dust, badly affecting children, pregnant women, elderly people, commuters and transporters.

At this juncture, NHAI need to adopt an integrative approach that covers the whole risk cycle from prevention to recovery. Risk management includes hazard mapping and spatial planning based on longer return periods of damaging events, coupled with risk monitoring and improved early warning systems. 

LG Administration, local law enforcement agencies, traffic police or concerned transport department can assess the ground situation, implement traffic management measures, and take appropriate actions to alleviate the traffic menace in the entire stretch. 

Additionally, community initiatives such as public awareness campaigns, responsible driving practices, and adhering to traffic rules and regulations can contribute to improving the overall traffic menace on NH-44 in this stretch. Disaster and accident happens only in the presence of people, and result from their decisions made with and without knowledge of the risk involved.

Ankur teaches Geography at GDC, Ramban

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