Rashid Paul

1922 BC Road of Miyan Pratap Singh and the 2023 National Highway of Horror

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Hundred years down the line, the Banihal Cart Road (BC Road), which connected Jammu with Kashmir was thrown open to the public.  It was the reign of Maharaj Pratap Singh, the third in line of the Dogra autocrats, “the time when the condition of Valley was utterly deplorable”, Kashir P 809.  An intensely Hindu orthodox Miyan Pratap Singh according to the book “would not see a Muslim or any Non-Hindu in the morning before his Puja (prayer). He would look at a cow rather than any Non-Hindu as the first thing in the morning. He would even break his huqqa if the fringe of his carpet was touched by a (Muslim or any) Non-Hindu and he would bathe as a penance for such unholy touch, P 819”.

But the Maharaja initiated many works of public utility during his rule. One such service was upgrading the BC Road to a motor-able one. It was 1922 when the BC Road was thrown open to public.  The Road is actually said to have been made in 1890’s, but was limited to the members of the Dogra royal family and their darabr.

Post the 1947 blood curdling partition of British India many strides were hit at securing the socio politico and economic integration of Kashmir.  However in 2019 the process graduated in to assimilation in to a larger “civilization” where the principles of socioeconomic relations are organized on the basis of the philosophy of Hindutva. History is actually the account of power play between individuals, societies, nationalities and civilizations.  The account of Kashmiri’s connectivity with the rest of India is one of horror and insecurity.  Despite the passage of a century since the link (BC Road), was thrown open for traffic it is still a fair-weather and treacherous fix. It is “a horror called Jammu Srinagar National Highway”. The Highway, passing through winding and dreadful hilly terrain, reported 1,750 deaths and 12,131 injuries in 8,128 accidents between 2010 and 2020.

The horror Highway is the lifeline for seven million people inhabiting Kashmir. Grains, vegetables, mutton, petroleum products and medicines worth thousands of crores of rupees are imported from markets across India into this landlocked Valley through this road. Shooting stones in sunny days and landslides and avalanches during rains and snow are the unique feature of this connectivity.  At times it remains closed for weeks together, causing shortage of essentials of life in Kashmir and giving a field day to hoarders and unfair profit makers.

In 2011 an ambitious project of four laning the Highway and making the aberrant connect an all weather road was initiated. A timeline of five years was set for its completion. But many more deadlines have passed over the years resulting in a huge cost overrun.  The newest tentative deadline set by the government of India has been announced as 2025.

Two important stretches of the Highway, Udhampur-Ramban and Ramban-Banihal, have recorded 100 percent cost overrun. The total revised cost of Udhampur-Ramban section has now been pegged at Rs 2233.65 crore while as it is Rs 2885.35 crore for the most difficult Ramban-Banihal section. The estimated cost of the two sections was Rs 1238.68 crore and Rs 1331.66 crore respectively.

Notably the 9.2 km ChenaniNashri tunnel and the 8.5 km Banihal Qazigund road tunnel have reduced the 295 kilometer distance between Jammu and Srinagar by about 40 kilometers and have also minimized the road closures. The Srinagar Qazigund and Jammu Udhampur corridors of the highway are already in use but the weather remains a travel hazard and many a killerspots in the mountains terrain continue to be a life threatening for the commuters.

To navigate his subjects of the curse of landlockedness the religiously orthodox Maharaja a century ago opened up BC Road. He also did built Jhelum Valley Card Road which opened plentiful avenues of trade and exchange for his fiefdom. The roads reduced the travel time and cut the costs for his subjects. It is a travesty of Justice that many world-class express ways have been built over the years across India but MiyanPartap Singh’s Cart Road is still a horror Highway and the regions traditional routs have been blocked in an “age of liberty”. We can re imagine a thriving future in the subcontinent but it necessitates de-stultification of minds and rediscovering a politics sans exploitation of baser human instincts under the pretence of religion.

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We can re imagine a thriving future in the subcontinent but it necessitates de-stultification of minds and rediscovering a politics sans exploitation of baser human instincts under the pretence of religion.

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