No Light At End Of Mughal Road Tunnel

5 April 2015
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali

Jammu: The State Government is expecting a breakthrough on its demand seeking approval for 'National Highway' status to Mughal Road, at a meeting in New Delhi later this month. The clearance to the proposal would help J&K secure additional funding from the Central Government for construction of 7-kilometer tunnel on the historic road to make it all-weather corridor to Kashmir. J&K's Minister for Roads and Buildings Altaf Bukhari said he would meet Union Minister for Roads Transport and Highways NitinGadkari in the third week of April to discuss several issues related to State's roads sector. 'The (demand for) National Highway status to Mughal Road is on top of the agenda,' said Bukhari. 'We are hopeful of progress on the matter.' Proposed at an altitude of 3000 meters from Zaznar to Chathapani, the tunnel on the 230-year old Mughal road, which connects Shopian in south Kashmir with Bafliaz in Jammu's Poonch district, is estimated to cost Rs 1200 crore. It was not part of original Rs 640-crore Mughal road project announced by New Delhi as part of the Prime Minister's Reconstruction Program for J&K and owing to state's 'meager financial resources' its construction has not witnessed any progress. An official said the tunnel would bypass treacherous and slide-prone areas to ensure round-the-year connectivity to Kashmir particularly during winter when Srinagar-Jammu highway remains closed for days owing to heavy snowfall and frequent landslides. The highway status to Mughal road has been long pending demand of the state but owing to New Delhi's non-commitment, the tunnel construction has not witnessed any progress, forcing regular traffic to be put off from the historic road which was opened for light vehicles by the previous regime. At present the 84-kilometer road remains open for traffic during summer only and shut during winter as heavy snowfall at the proposed tunnel-site forces its closure. The National Conference and Congress government had on number of occasions taken up tunnel construction with New Delhi. 'In February 2014 however, a Cabinet Secretary-led panel, which reviewed the development scenario in J&K, turned down the proposal,' the official said. 'The onus also lies on state government which has not been able to present the case (of tunnel) more convincingly even when the erstwhile Planning Commission had approved it.' Earlier this month, Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed told the Assembly which is in session here that his government would give priority to make Mughal Road as an alternative corridor. 'We are committed on it,' said Minister Altaf Bukhari. Bukhari in fact held a meeting with Union Minister in New Delhi last month about several issues regarding delay in expansion of Srinagar-Jammu highway and allocation in PMGSY to J&K. 'The Mughal road was discussed threadbare and Union Minister assured to look into it,' said another official, privy to the developments. The upcoming meeting at New Delhi would be follow up to last month's deliberations. However the tunnel is not the only worry for the government. Another project for slope stabilization on the mountainous road to overcome landslides has also not seen any progress. Several areas like Chatrian, Poshiana, Dangrian and Chatranallah near Peer Ki Gali along the 84-km road stretch are slide-prone and require slope stabilization which could cost around Rs 250 crore, said another official. He said the worry was that both the projects, tunnel and slope stabilization, were not part of Rs 640-crore Mughal Road project which was a part of the Prime Minister's Reconstruction Program (PMRP). The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to Kashmir in 2004 announced Rs 28000-crore PMRP which was later revised to around Rs 33000 crore. Presently only Light Motor Vehicles ply on the road.