Mughal Road: Funding Issues Put Kashmir-Poonch Link Off The Track

Mughal Road: Funding Issues Put Kashmir-Poonch Link Off The Track

13 December 2013
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali

Srinagar: While the J&K government’s plan to make the historic Mughal Road, connecting Kashmir with Poonch in Jammu via south Kashmir, an all-weather route has not seen any progress in the recent past, another key project to overcome frequent landslides on the road is gathering dust. The State Government had approached Centre for funds to construct a seven kilometer tunnel at an altitude of 3000 meters from Zaznar to Chathapani to make the 84-kilometer road an all-weather route. Sources said though there was no word from the Government of India on the funding, the State R&B Department has hired an Austrian company named Smeck Indian for preparation of a Detailed Project Report of the tunnel. The report would be ready by early next year and would inform the quantum of the funding required for the tunnel. “The cost can go around Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 crores,” said an official, privy to the issue. About 20-km stretch of the road receives heavy snowfall during winter and the construction of the tunnel is a must to keep it open round-the-year. The official said while the State’s case is being supported by the Planning Commission, the absence of a commitment from New Delhi is raising apprehensions about the fate of the project since the State Government is not in a position to undertake it on its own. He said the funding for the slope stabilization on the mountainous road to overcome the landslides was another worry for the Government. Along the 84-km road stretch are areas including Chatrian, Poshiana, Dangrian and Chatranallah near Peer Ki Gali which are slide-prone. A report prepared by the R&B department said the Government would require Rs 230 crores for the project. The official said the worry was that both construction of the tunnel and slope stabilization were not part of the Rs 640-crore Mughal Road project which is a component 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 crores. “Convincing Government of India to fund both these projects would be a difficult task,” the official said. Presently around 1000 Light Motor Vehicles ply on the road annually. The Minister for Roads and Buildings Abdul Majid Wani said the construction of the road has been completed. Since the road has historic importance, the minister said the State was hopeful that the Prime Minister would agree to inaugurate it. “I have written to the Chief Minister in this regard,” he said. About the slope stabilization project, Wani said it was “under consideration”. The reason for the State Government lobbying for inauguration of the road by the Prime Minister is to push their case to seek funding for the tunnel from the Centre, the official said. “It is one of the marvelous projects completed by the State and we are hopeful that both the PMO and Union Ministry for Roads and Transport will be impressed with the work. This can support our (funding) case also,” the official said. However there was remote possibility of the Prime Minister inaugurating the road anytime soon as normal traffic would return to the road only in March 2014 in view of the snowfall. Besides, the Parliamentary polls are scheduled for April-May 2014 which further bleaks the chances of the Prime Minister throwing the road open. Over the years controversies have overshadowed the construction of the road. While the work on the route was awarded to the Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd, the SP Singla Construction Company (SPSCC) had bagged the award for constructing bridges thereof. The HCC has been demanding Rs 21 crore from the State Government for clearing debris from the road till the period ending July 2012. The Government is yet to take over control of the road from the two companies. “It is an out-of-package claim. The claims and counter claims are made when any particular project is under construction,” said Wani. The Mughal road project was estimated at Rs 255 crores but the delays since 2006 escalated the cost. The 427-year-old road would provide alternative connectivity to Kashmir with the outside world once it is reopened. The road connects Shopian in south Kashmir with Bafliaz in Poonch district in Jammu. The work on the road was first taken up in 1969, however it was stopped completely in 1990. In 2005, the work formally re-started on the road under the PMRP. The road has 379 RCC slab culverts, 13 minor permanent bridges and seven major bridges. The project was scheduled for completion in 2008. Since then, it has missed five deadlines, the last in March 2013.