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JCB Snow clearance | Photo by Author
Is the J&K administration ready to tackle the upcoming and anticipated snowfall this season? Why can't NREGA funds be utilized for Snow Clearance?
THE winter has come. Rain has managed to seep through the streets of Srinagar and areas adjoining. Snow has already trumpeted the tunes of its arrival. Weathermen have their sleeves rolled up and eyes up on the skies. All hands are on deck and all eyes set on the administration's readiness.
Last year's memories of murky mountains of snow on roads and sidewalks, reluctant to melt and irresponsibly left to bother are still fresh. Has the administration managed to take its due lessons now? Is it ready with a rapid action play for snow clearance once snow arrives in Srinagar and other districts?
Authorities are always seen pressing into service the JCBs or Tractors instead of snow-clearing machines.
In January this year, when a JCB was sent to clear snow in Repora village in Chadoora, local villagers intervened and sent it back. Locals preferred to clear the snow with spades instead as the JCB damaged the road which had recently been blacktopped. Similarly, last summer, crores of rupees were spent on repairing, relaying and constructing retaining walls on the nine kilometers stretch from Bonyar village in Budgam District to Goggee Pathri road via Kutabl. It was blacktopped for the first time and the villagers living in the area rejoiced but their elation was short-lived. After only five months, the road came undone as heavy JCBs rolled in to clear the snow and in the process gouged out the surface of the bitumen road. Same complaints poured in from Kupwara, Bandipora Ganderbal and other districts as well.
Why are newly-made and repaired roads being damaged with JCBs and Tractors? The reason is simple; there is absence or lack of snow-clearance machines. In Budgam district, for instance, there are 12 snow-clearing machines only. The case is more or less the same in other districts like Baramulla. Yet another resource loophole is the absence of a team to coordinate snow-clearance during the months of winter. A single Executive Engineer oversees the mechanical division and is responsible for snow-clearance in three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal.
Due to a shortage of snow-machines, there is delay in clearing the roads amid snowfall and when there is 3 to 4 feet snowfall , the situation becomes even more challenging.
While the Mechanical Department takes up snow-clearance works on the major roads of the district, the Roads and Buildings Department (R&B) hires contractors who use JCBs or agricultural tractors for snow clearance. They are in charge of clearing village roads and link roads that they have constructed. In addition, the roads constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna are taken care of by contractors for five years. This is called the Defect Liability Period and slow clearance work is also to be undertaken by them. Contractors use JCBs to clear the snow and, sometimes, the Mechanical Department also pitches in on the more important roads of the district.
Why can't the authorities use the MGNREGA funds for snow clearance work? Many from remote parts of J&K have been demanding this. I too have campaigned and done advocacy around this issue .
Some years back, the then Rural Development Minister J&K Govt, Abdul Haq Khan met with Union Minister Rural Development and apprised him about this issue but no follow up was made by the department later on. Last year, when NREGA & snow clearance was a point of discussion on social media , Wajahat Habibullah a retired IAS officer and former chief information commissioner who has served as Secretary Panchayati Raj Govt of India , supported my claim that Govt of India must amend NREGA rules to allow snow clearance work under MG-NREGA.
Most of the work covered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) often comes to a halt in hilly states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand during the winter. This leaves most rural labourers unemployed for several months.
Keeping this in mind, the district administration of Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh some years back suggested to the state government that the task of clearing snow should be included under NREGA. The Department of Rural Development, Government of Himachal Pradesh accepted this suggestion since road construction and clearing of debris can be categorised as essential activities, and can, therefore, be undertaken under the scheme.
The district administration of Kinnaur employed local villagers to clear snow from narrow roads in far off villages across the district. The payment to these villagers falls under NREGA.
Damaged road by JCB in Budgam | Photo by Author
On the other hand, in Jammu and Kashmir, we witness heavier snowfall than Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand. Still, we don't have a single snow-clearance activity sanctioned under NREGA. As of now, in Kashmir, clearance of snow happens using JCBs and bulldozers—which are meant for soil excavation which often damage the roads.
The Rural Development Department J&K claims that clearing snow from lanes, roads, and public spaces cannot come under NREGA as it does not lead to creation of physical assets. Though Kinnaur has set a precedent and made the case for snow clearance to be included in NREGA works, the Jammu and Kashmir government is yet to forward a formal proposal to the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Govt of India for this.
Timely snow clearance across all the villages especially remotely located places in higher reaches is not possible unless the Government does not involve the Department of Rural Development who can dovetail NREGA funds available with them. This will serve three purposes
a) Snow clearance can be undertaken at an appropriate time in remote / hilly areas of J&K
b) The activity will generate livelihood for rural youth especially at a time when these youth have no work during winter months.
c) Blacktopped roads won't be damaged by bulldozers and JCB's
Additionally, under the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin, NREGA funds can be utilized for Solid and Liquid Waste Management by dovetailing the both. If this convergence is possible why cannot authorities utilize NREGA funds for snow clearance? During execution of Solid Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) in rural areas, not much of the physical assets are created except when the implementing agency constructs waste processing sheds but construction of these sheds is only one of the activities under SLWM. Activities like segregation of biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste, cleaning water-bodies , springs and village streams or Information Education and Communication (IEC) work hardly involve any physical asset creation. For all these works. NREGA funds are allowed to be used by Govt of India under SBM Gramin guidelines. When it comes to snow clearance, officials say funds cannot be utilized for this.
I believe that the J&K Government has not been able to give proper explanation or presentation to the Union Rural Development Ministry in this regard and that is why the case is still in limbo.
If the Government of Himachal Pradesh can allow snow clearance work in Kinnaur district,why can't this be done in J&K or Ladakh? Isn't timely snow clearance an asset? Isn't creating livelihoods in harsh winter months a necessity?
I appeal to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha , Principal Secretary Rural Development Department Bipul Pathak to take up this issue with the Govt of India soon.
- Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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