Connectivity is the key
The Lt Governor administration has made a fresh claim that the work on the 8.4 km Navayuga Tunnel, on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, which will connect Banihal directly to Qazigund is nearing completion and the tunnel is expected to be inaugurated in the month of March 2021. This claim was made during a meeting held to take stock of work progress on various sections of the National Highway-44 (Srinagar-Jammu highway) being executed through the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The concerned authorities informed that works on the 3 sections of the National Highway-44 — namely Udhampur-Ramban, Ramban-Banihal, and Banihal- Qazigund including double tube Navayuga tunnel are in full swing and progressing smoothly. On Udhampur-Ramban section, it was informed that 70 percent of physical work on the project has been completed, and the remaining work will be completed by September 2021. It was further informed that majority of the issues regarding land acquisition and utility shifting have been resolved and the work is progressing smoothly on Ramban-Banihal section. The official claims sound music to the ears and had there not been a bitter baggage of such claims made in the past, one would really be celebrating the official disclosures given what grave pain in neck this Highway has all along been fort the populace.
Reliable and efficient surface communication is the corner stone of progress and development of any region. However, Kashmir has been lacking it since 1947. The only road link that connects the Valley with rest of the country is 300 KM stretch of Srinagar-Jammu highway. The road being a fair-weather one, its frequent closures have been hitting Kashmir’s economy badly. A little drizzle and the road gets closed for days and during winter even for weeks. From the very first snowfall this winter, this Highway has remained closed for most of the days. Kashmir being a consumer region, most of the eatables come from outside and the frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway results into the shortage of essentials in the Valley, hoarding and black-marketing. The fragility of this highway also impacts adversely the horticulture sector. When the apple growers are ready with their crop to send it to outside markets, that is the season when this highway closes down more frequently due to weather conditions and thus results into losses to the apple growers. It was in mid 70’s that then Prime Minister of India laid foundation stone for Udhampur-Srinagar railway line. Decades have passed but the project is yet to be completed. Though the first section connecting Udhampur to Katra and the third section between Banihal and Baramulla have been completed with both sections operational, the main section – connecting Katra and Banihal, the most problematic section still remains incomplete.
In this backdrop, the assertions made by the administration regarding completion of Navayuga Tunnel and other sections of the highway is what people are desperately waiting for. Besides the Highway, the administration need to speed up the work on 111-kilometre long section of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link. The other day, railway authorities claimed that this link would be operational by December 2022. If this really happens, it would really be a game changer. However, given their past experience of such projects, the people of Kashmir may not be that optimistic about the deadline set by the Railway officials or by the administration regarding completion of the remaining sections of Highway, it goes without saying that if it really happens, it will be a great boost to Kashmir’s economy. This rail project and Highway project are highly essential to provide a reliable transportation system. The railway project was declared as a national project in 2002 and therefore one would expect that the concerned authorities focus on it and transform their claims into reality.