The Road Not Taken Up

(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
Representational Photo

By Peerzada Mohsin Shafi

When I was in high school, my teacher, Mr. Gulzar Hanief, used to say“Roads are the temples of the modern world.” At that time, I did not fully grasp the meaning of this statement. However, as I grew older, I came to understand its significance. Roads are indeed the backbone of a country. In my opinion, roads are pivotal to the development of any area. They are like magical wands that transform the regions they traverse. According to the Year End Review 2023 published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) on January 5, 2024, the national highway network has increased by 60%, from 91,287 km in 2014 to 146,145 km in 2023. The government, under MORTH, has launched numerous schemes for constructing both existing and greenfield highway projects across the country.


Similarly, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the government has initiated various projects in recent years. According to official records from the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), road projects worth Rs. 914.15 crore were completed from 2018 to 2022. Infrastructure projects, including tunnels and roads, worth approximately Rs. 14,686 crores are ongoing, with around 70% of the work completed. This means that from 2022 to 2023, NHIDCL has spent approximately Rs. 11,194.15 crore, which is a significant amount. Other agencies under MORTH like NHAI has also invested substantially in infrastructure projects. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is currently constructing various tunnels and viaducts in the Ramban-Banihal stretch of NH-44, worth several crores. This includes the construction of five tunnels from Banihal to Ramban. Additionally, NHAI has recently floated tenders worth Rs. 1500 crore for upgrading the Khanabal-Aishmuqam-Pahalgam Road in three packages and for constructing a second tube of the Nashri Chenani Tunnel, worth approximately Rs. 3000 crores.

The Government of India, under NHIDCL, has undertaken a prestigious project to provide an alternate route between Kishtwar and Anantnag. This project, numbered NH-244, starts from Khanabal, Anantnag, and ends in Chenani, Udhampur. Currently, NHIDCL has spent around Rs. 24.49 crore for upgrading and strengthening the road from Anantnag to Vailoo, Kokernag. Furthermore, tenders worth approximately Rs. 4500 crores have been awarded to construction companies for upgrading NH-244, including the Khelani Tunnel and seven road packages. The Vailoo Singhpora Tunnel, approximately 10.3 km long, and the Sudhmahadev Dranga Tunnel between Chenani and Udhampur, which was recently cancelled and will be retendered, are also part of this project. The cost of these two projects is around Rs. 5851 crores. In short, the total approximate cost of connecting the Kashmir Valley with Kishtwar is around Rs. 10,375 crores, which is a substantial amount.

The main project in this entire stretch is the construction of the Vailoo Singhpora Tunnel, as it is the primary link between the two districts. The proposal for this tunnel emerged as early as 2010, initially to be executed in the Public-Private-Partnership mode with J&K Bank as the funding agency. After many years of dormancy, the project gained momentum from 2018 to 2022, and ultimately, the DPR was prepared and tender for its construction were floated in 2022.

Read Also J&K Macadamisation Manual Must Be Followed in Toto GoI Sanctions 152.30 Cr PMGSY Package For Upgradation Of Roads In J&K

Before the proposal to connect the Kashmir Valley with the Chenab Valley through the Vailoo Singhpora Tunnel, various governments had promised to connect the two regions via the Kapran Desa Road. This initiative began in 1958 during Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad's government. The demand for this road gained momentum in 1966 when the people of Doda launched an agitation for its construction. In 1978, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah also pledged to take up the project. In 2009, it was decided that the two regions would be connected via a tunnel approximately 7 km long, starting from Kapran (Anantnag) and ending in Desa (Doda). In 2016, Member of Parliament and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad requested the Centre to declare the Doda-Dessa-Kapran Road a national highway. During the previous PDP-BJP coalition government, then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and later Mehbooba Mufti directed the J&K PWD R&B Department to prepare the DPR, but no progress has been made.

Recently, between 2022-23, local NGOs and various political and non-political organizations met with former Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, and the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, to discuss the construction of the proposed road. They received encouraging responses, similar to those from previous governments. However, according to popular opinion, a major obstacle is the lengthy process of converting the existing Anantnag-Doru-Verinag District Road and similar Doda counterpart into a national highway. Additionally, the compensation the government would need to pay to the locals presents another significant challenge. Furthermore, the distance between Anantnag and Kapran is approximately 30 km, and the current road is only a single lane. Beyond the cost of road construction, the compensation required for residents along the route is prohibitively high, making the project seem impractical from Doda side are worse.

In India, land acquisition is one of the primary hindrances to road projects. A case in point is the stretch from Janglatmandi to Brakpora on the newly constructed NH-244. Although this distance is just 3 km, the government abandoned the widening of this section due to the high compensation costs, opting instead for a greenfield road connecting the area via a new Qazigund-Alstop-Diagram-Brakpora route. If the government could not compensate for a 3 km stretch, it seems implausible that it could manage compensation for the 30 km from Anantnag to Kapran from Kashmir side and similar compensation on Doda side.

Furthermore, as already discussed, the government is spending around Rs. 10,375 crores to connect the Kashmir Valley with the Chenab Valley via the NH-244 route. It seems unlikely that the government would invest a huge amount in the Kapran Desa route. Moreover, the current distance between Doda and Kishtwar is around 59 km, which will be reduced to 30 km after completing the works, including the Khelani Tunnel, on NH-244. Thus, constructing the Kapran Desa route might become redundant.

In conclusion, the government has chosen the Vailoo Singhpora route to connect the Valley to Kishtwar, and currently, there are no plans to connect the two regions via the Kapran Desa route. The future of this project lies in the hands of the government, but as of now, the Kapran Desa route remains a distant dream.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • The author is a Researcher, Contracts and Planning Engineer, Member ASCE


Kashmir Observer

Legal Disclaimer:
MENAFN provides the information “as is” without warranty of any kind. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, images, videos, licenses, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this article. If you have any complaints or copyright issues related to this article, kindly contact the provider above.