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Sadhna- The Death Trap

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By: Mohammad Kazafi Manan

The frontier tehsil- Karnah- lies in the west of District Kupwara, around 170km from summer capital Srinagar of Jammu and Kashmir. Prior to partition of J&K state the erstwhile tehsil Teetwal comprised of River Kishan Ganga catchment area i.e., from Gurez to Muzafarabad and Teetwal with its surrounding area considered as hub of trade and commercial activities as the State was well connected with Muzafarabad district by a well built road passing through Teetwal and most of the trade activities with neighbouring Punjab were carried through this road. This commercial hub and economically active Teetwal of yesteryears presents a picture of gloom and tragedy post partition with the closure of Muzafarabad road.

All the economic activities came to a standstill and the area became last resort of J&K on LoC with Pakistan Administrated Kashmir (PAK) on another side. The only connectivity with the rest of the state and the country is a road (NH701) that traverses through high altitude, mighty mountains with rugged topography, steep slopes and gorges which remain closed for almost six months a year. The avalanche prone areas along the road with the risk of landslides at many places makes it difficult for people to travel during winters (October-March) on this road to reach the nearest district headquarter Kupwara or to summer Capital Srinagar.

The area was renamed as ‘Karnah’ post partition of the State of J&K, with its headquarter at Tangdar and was linked with District HQ Baramulla at a distance of 120km. Due to lack of administrative supervision, another District was carved (Kupwara) at a distance of 70km from Tehsil Karnah with concept to give flip to the developmental activities in the area including Karnah tehsil. To the misfortune of the people, this area never got any particular attention. As the road remains blocked, the people are deprived of basic amenities including healthcare, medicines, foods, newspapers, books and magazines updating current affairs and stationery items for students. In extreme conditions, people venture out to take extreme decision of crossing the 50Km terrain on foot to purchase life saving medicine and essential commodities at cost of their own lives, without any assurance of returning back. Many people die due to hypothermia condition while tramping on snow to cross Sadhna pass. In my previous articles, “Sadhna Tunnel: Forgotten Dream or….!” published in Greater Kashmir on 10th March 2017, and, “Connecting Dreams” published in Greater Kashmir on 8th May 2015. I have given brief introduction of the area with introduction, geological setup, topography and remedy with respect to the need of the 6.5km (Approx) construction of Sadhna tunnel and in this piece I have given accidental history of the area with the same purpose and aim of construction of the 6.5Km Sadhna tunnel.

Accidental History:

The hill of Sadhna pass is a death trap for commuters as dozens die along Sadhna pass every year. Around 400 vehicles ply daily on this route, out of that 80-100 vehicles are of defence alone as there is to and fro military movement throughout the year owing to the strategic location of area on LoC with Pakistan Administrated Kashmir on other side. The civilian populations living in the area and armed forces personnel deputed there are scared to travel on the so called fair weather road, except under compelling circumstances as it has already taken hundreds of human lives. The NC (Nasta-Chun) pass i.e., Sadhna pass has tolled more than 200 recorded and reported casualties and other hundreds unrecorded. On 5th of Jan 2018, Khoni Nalla (The Stream of Blood) near Sadhna pass again tolled 10 civilian lives and a BRO officer, while being hit by avalanche at the spot. The loss of human lives was rocketed in the debate of State Legislative Assembly, print and electronic media also played its role by projecting intense public demand for construction of Sadhna Tunnel on priority.

The total population of Karnah is around 80,000 souls among which around 10-15 persons get killed in road accidents per year while travelling on this 32km stretch of Sadhna pass. When compared with the district data of death and disabilities, it shows that the majority of deaths and disabilities occur in the hilly tehsil Karnah. In 2015 total 17 people died in different road accidents in district Kupwara  (J&K traffic police data)  out of that 12 people died (GK news paper Dated:12-08-2015 and 02-12-2015) along Sadhna pass in two different accidents. Eleven persons were killed in tragic road accident near Sadhna top including three women and a child in the month of August 2015 and an army officer was killed on spot and three other soldiers were injured when an accident took place near Khoni Nallah in the month of December 2015. On an average 14 persons die every year in Road traffic accident in Karnah and out of that 11 person face death on and around Sadhna pass while travelling 32km hilly road stretch. In District Kupwara 70% deaths in Road accidents happens in Karnah only just against the population of 80000, while as 30% deaths in Road accidents occur in other tehsils of Kupwara against the population of around 9 lakh.  In Karnah 73% casualties take place along Sadhna pass and only 27% casualties takes place in other parts of Karnah Valley.

Number of Average Deaths in road accidents

in District and in Karnah per year:

Parameters Distt. Karnah
Death in Road Accidents 20 14
Male 15 11
Female 05 03
No. of Fatal Accidents 08 03

 

Number of Average Deaths in road accidents in

Karnah and near Sadhna pass per year:

Parameters Karnah Sadhna Pass
Fatal Road Accidents 01 02
Death in Road Accidents 03 11

 

Prevalence of RTA in different age groups in Karnah

Age range (Yrs) % of death
0-20 10%
20-40 50%
40-60 30%
60-80 10%

It can be interpreted from the above data that among the dead 80% of the people fall in the age group of 20-40 and 40-60. This age group is more vulnerable to deaths and accidents owing to their family compulsions of earning the bread and to leave their homes at all costs. It can be further interpreted that with a death of an individual, families often loose their bread winners pushing their families to the depths of unending pain, misery and economic deprivation.

Here is what can be done now:

The primary focus of this study is to identify the challenges and difficulties that people face on routine basis and to find some feasible solutions. The only viable solution is construction of 6.12Km Tunnel at Sadhna pass which can reduce the distance of vulnerable 32km. The valley has only one exit and this road has been recently upgraded to the status of National Highway (NH701) and road of important importance. National Highway has certain specifications and owing to these specifications, the existing road needs widening mostly in this 32km stretch on Sadhna pass. The estimated cost for cutting, filling, dressing, Protection works, Cross Drainages, Drain, Macadam, Road Furniture etc goes to 300crores besides annual maintenance of 3crore, Driving cost saving (Fuel) 2.86crore, Passenger Fare cost saving 9.58crore, Good Transportation Charges 10.95crores. If these crores are invested into construction of Sadhna Tunnel, it would be one time investment besides saving crores of yearly maintenances.

The other small time measures should be taken by law enforcing agencies to avoid accidents due to drivers fault and people are requested to cooperate by following the traffic rules by limiting of speed, wearing seat belt, driving carefully, avoid use of cell phones during driving and use of helmets for two wheeler drivers. These limitations will help to improve the traffic rules and minimising the chance of accidents but for long term measure there is no alternative except construction of 6.12Km all weather Tunnel which bypass this dangerous road stretch.

The author is an Engineering Geologist with JKSPDC, Srinagar.

[email protected]

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