Nothing high about highway-44
It is peak summer season in the state and the only arterial highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar is witnessing closure for days together owing to the bad condition of the road on various stretches.
Just last week the road remained closed for three days and even as of now the movement of heavy vehicles is not allowed on the road leading to a chaotic situation among the fruit growers in Kashmir valley as hundreds of fruit laden trucks cross the highway these days towards the plains.
The closure of road owing to the bad condition of the highway has raised many questions. Not only has the four-laning of the Srinagar-Banihal road got delayed by 44 months but the project has even witnessed cost escalation by Rs 116 crore.
The project was sanctioned in 2011 and the deadline was fixed for 2014. According to a Union government report, only 72 percent of the widening work on the Srinagar-Banihal side of the Srinagar-Jammu highway has been completed.
This project is being executed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which has allotted its work to Hyderabad-based construction company Ramky Infrastructure.
Ironically, the Qazigund-Banihal sub-section of the Srinagar-Banihal stretch was only 67 percent complete as several issues are hampering the work on the project. The Qazigund-Banihal portion has two tunnels, each 8.5-km long.
On Bijbehara Bypass, work has been completed on 10km of the total 12.7 km length. Work on 3.34 km of the Awantipora Bypass is yet to be completed. Officials attribute the delay to court cases against the acquisition of land.
As per official estimates, out of the 4,087 kanals of land involved in the construction of the road, 3,588 kanals have been acquired in Anantnag district and handed over to the NHAI. In Pulwama district, out of the 2,554 kanals of land, 1,859 kanals have been acquired till last year.
Another issue that has crept up in the execution of the project is the difficult terrain and less working space on the Ramban-Banihal sector.
Only five percent of work has been executed in more than a year on Ramban-Banihal project, for which the National Highway Authority of India has set May 2019 as the deadline for completion of entire work.
Four laning from Ramban to Banihal section will comprise two bypasses (Seri and Makerkot), six major and 21 minor bridges, 152 culverts, seven pedestrian/cattle underpasses and six tunnels with total length of 2967.50 meters.
HCC has been allotted the job work for this stretch and total project cost of four-laning from Ramban to Banihal (Kms 151 to 187) is Rs 2168 crores, including civil cost Rs 1783.42 crores.
However, given the pace at which the work has been going on the missing of the deadline is just a formality now. The government needs to wake up on this crucial issue and take some harsh decisions to ensure that the project is undertaken with seriousness and vigor. Otherwise, this all important project too will prove to be a dampener.