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Sordid Saga of people travelling on Chenab valley roads
7/2/2019 11:56:19 PM
Asif Iqbal Naik
Early Times Report
KISHTWAR, July 2: Mountainous districts of Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban and Reasi of Jammu division are different than many other districts of not only state of Jammu and Kashmir but in the country as well, as they not only lack basic development but have virtually gained the tag of "Valley of deaths."
The two National Highways-Kishtwar-Doda-Batote highway and Batote-Ramban-Srinagar highway-along with various other roads of these four districts gives sleepless nights to the people.
The tragic accident on Keshwan road in Kishtwar on Monday which claimed the lives of 35 people and critical injuries to 15 others including the three year old girl whose entire family was wiped out in this accident has shocked the nation and once again put focus on terrific road accidents in Chenab valley.
As the young girl is battling for her life in Jammu's Medical college, the nation seems firmly standing behind her and others raising voices for taking measures to prevent the "dance of death" on roads in Jammu and Kashmir.
The yesterdays accident on one side witness the burial of nearly two dozen victims while at the same time also witness the cremation of around one dozen victim who were given final goodbye with tearful and wet eyes brining the people from both the communities together in the hour of the grief and shock.
It was around four decades ago when the first major bus accident took place at Raginallah in 60's in which over three dozen people lost their lives followed by another major accident at same place in the year 1988 at the same spot in which all the passengers on board died--- this was not only an accident for the people living in twin Districts of Doda and Kishtwar-but it too gets the tag of "Ghost" as many people believe that the Ghost of some passengers died in previous accident at the same spot seems to be looking for the blood of young people--- after this belief, the passengers travelling on Kishtwar-Jammu National Highway often stops at the said accident site and were seen praying at the spot which continued for many years.
With the increase in roads and number of passengers travelling to & fro, the number of accidents cross the number that surprise to many--- over 1500 accidents took place in Jammu Division every year with over 2000 deaths and as many as over 5000 injuries-- majority of them took place in the "Valley of deaths" alone.
In last over two decades, the valley of death has witnessed over 25000 accidents claiming the lives of thousands of people while at the same time making thousands other handicapped, paralysed and thus change the course of lives of several families.
The data many a time reveals that the lives lost in these accidents are more than the lives claimed in terror related incidents.
The angry people blames successive government and the local politicians for continuous blood bath in "Valley of Death" where every household holds the memory of dear ones who either died or injured in accidents-many people believe that after every 50 meters, the house of accident victims exists in Doda, Ramban, Reasi and Kishtwar District.
After two infamous Raginallah incidents, the "valley of deaths" witnessed several major accidents which include at Galgander on Doda-Bhaderwah road with over 44 deaths, at Warra on Kishtwar-Thatri road with 39 deaths, at Banderkoot on Kishtwar-Chatroo road with 38 deaths including over 2 dozen government teachers, Shashoo on Kishtwar Padder road with 42 deaths, near Hasti on Kishtwar-Sarthal road with over two dozen deaths including 14 members of a same family, near Thatri pul claiming lives of 32 people , near Kuligard with 36 deaths and many other accidents that claims lives of hundreds of innocent lives beside rendered hundreds of families orphaned.
The Under Secretary to Government Home Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, ministry of Home in reply to un-starred question of former Independent MLA from Langate Er. Abdul Rashid two year ago stated that 2899 persons were killed in 18166 accidents that took place in different parts of the state during the year 2013,2014 & 2015 while as many as 24866 people were injured in these accidents in last three years which is more than the killings and injuries during militancy related incidents in last three years.
In reply to A.Q No. 769 wherein MLA Er. Abdul Rashid seeks the details about the number of road accidents registered in the state of Jammu and Kashmir including the number of causalities reported during the last three years and also the details of compensation/ex-gratia relief paid to each injured/NOKs, the Under Secretary to Government Home Department stated that during the year 2013, 6469 accidents took place in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in which 990 people were killed while 8681 people were injured in these accidents. Similarly in the year 2014, in 5861 accidents 992 people were killed and 8043 people were injured and in the year 2015, in 5836 accidents, 917 people were killed and 8142 people were injured in accidents; thus in 18166 (approximately 16.58 daily) accidents in three years, 2899 (approximately 2.64) persons died every day and 24844 (Approximately 22.70) persons injured daily in accidents in J&K.
The writing on the walls is very clear "This is the only road on the surface of the earth that takes you directly into the heavens, having 12 parapets with golden bricks" reflect the public anger towards the elected representatives representing the "Valley of death" both in the state as well as in the center in the form of Minister in PMO Dr. Jitendra Singh and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The pale of gloom on 2nd day after yesterday tragic incident at Keshwan seems to be clearly visible in the high skies of Kishtwar District that once again bring backs the focus on the roads of Chenab Valley. Yesterday unfortunate incident that claims the lives of at least 10 members of a family has shaken entire Chenab Valley.
Five precious lives were lost at Kuligard last year beside the death of mother-daughter duo last year caught the political leadership in the eye of storm, and rightly so as majority of the politicians representing the "Valley of deaths" in one or other capacity has left to issue only condolence massages with demand of "Rs. 10 lakh" compensation to the victims had faced fresh anger.
"Are not those who are today claiming to be Messiah of people are actually responsible for the deterioration of the infrastructure" question the people--- who also put blame on GREF, PMGSY, NHIDCL for using sub-standard material and created new sliding zones while executing work on these highways and state roads.
In September 2014 Jammu and Kashmir witnessed heavy rainfall followed by flashfloods and heavy flood situation in various parts of the state including Valley. Though the situation was not so grim in the erstwhile Doda district, but the region suffered badly due to the landslides, sinking of villages and damage caused to the public as well as government property. It will not be out of place to mention here that the September floods followed the repeated earthquakes and tremors witnessed in the region causing damage to the public property as well as ecology. The matter was serious as in most of the earthquakes, though of low intensity, the epicenter was in the region itself.
As per 2011 census, Doda district has a population of around 4,09,936 souls, while its adjoining district Kishtwar has a population of around 2,30,696 and both the District witnessed road blockade for several weeks after major portion of the road submerged near Doda and Assar.
The region was waiting for another catastrophe which came in the form of continuous rains this year. The sudden shift in the annual rainfall and ecological disturbances created due to various reasons including earthquakes, reservoirs created for Baghliar and deforestation has finally compounded the situation. At present the entire population of more than 7 lakh was at the verge of being cut off from the rest of world due to the deteriorating condition of Batote-Kishtwar National Highway - the only surface link connecting the twin Districts with rest of the state.
There are many things that makes direct impact on roads--- A geological survey, as per reports, had suggested that the present highway runs along a fault line. If this is to be believed the recent earthquakes and subsequent tremors felt in the region were the major causes of the landslides in this zone.
It is ironical that the state and union government paid no attention to the earthquakes and its impact on Chenab Valley as no scientific study has been conducted till date. The local geological experts believe that the continuity of the slops of the hills through which the highway has been curved out stands disturbed due to the continuous earthquakes leading to the landslides and sinking scenario.
A huge reservoir extending from Chanderkote upto Pul Doda has been created for State run Baglihar Hydro-Electric Power Project--- It is evident that no care has been taken for catchment area development in the area as a result of which the catchment area of the Chenab river upstream towards Doda has been damage causing further loss to the surrounding hillocks. The reservoir is also suspected to have created an ecological imbalance leading to the sudden shift in temperature as well as extended winters.
Similar is the situation with the reservoir created for Dul-Hasti Power Project at Kishtwar, though of less significance as the walls on the bank of river Chenab are hard as compared to Baghliar reservoir as a result of which Kishtwar-Padder road is somehow still in good shape, but in shamble condition.
The more power projects on river Chenab were in pipeline but there does not seems to be any program to look into the environmental concerns in the region before starting these power projects
Some telecommunication companies have laid Optical Fiber Cable all along this route in violation of the standing procedure and laid down policy of the Union Government. It was a stand practice that the OFC was laid by the telecom companies on the hill side in order to avoid damages to the road. However, for the first time the telecom companies were permitted to laid the cable on river side, which has created visible damages to the highway at most of the places.
As per the Policy announced by the union government in 2001 and amended in 2009, the telecom companies were required to sign a bank guarantee, which could be used to repair road in case of damages but no such process seems to have been followed, which calls for a probe in the matter.
The transition stage with regard to the maintenance of roads has completely remained cut off for most of the time--- though the state government has pressed its machinery to keep the route open--- The continuous landslides, shooting stones, sinking of road has worsened the situation and presently no heavy vehicle, carrying essentials, is fully able to pass through these routes forcing the authorities many a time to allow one way traffic during winter season.
The road, being the National Highway, was being constructed and maintained by R&B Department--- However, as per the recent government claims, the highway has now been handed over to the newly formed National Highway Development Corporation of India.
The Batote-Kishtwar highway is not the only road link which has suffered damages in the recent months. The reports indicate that most of the inter-district roads, especially constructed under PMGSY, have met the same fate for almost the same reasons.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court in a Public Interest Litigation filed by Dr. D.S. Jasrotia & others through Advocate Rohit Kapoor relating to continuing fatal accidents in mountainous district of Doda and Kishtwar in which hundreds of people lost their lives every year has issued directions to the government with regard to concern showed by the litigant.
Division Bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court vide his order no WPIL/25 of 2011 issued directions to DC Doda to provide life saving equipment to NGO's who are taking part in relief and rescue operations during accidents . The High Court further directed the State to file a report in this regard with regard to steps being taken by the government to stop fatal accidents.
It is the grievance of the applicant, that the roads leading to Doda and Kishtwar District are prone to fatal accidents resulting into hundred of deaths and injuries in any given year. Petitioner have stated in petition that 1300 people have died, while thousands of other got injured in road accidents in Jammu and Kashmir in one year in average.
Advocate Rohit Kapoor pledge that several factors resulted into the accidents added that lack of proper medical facilities in hospital in Chenab valley along with non existence of well equipped disaster management teams in the area ultimately played its role in increase in number of the deaths.
The injured persons if get immediate medical attention could survive--- but due to lack of proper medical facility, non availability of doctors and delay cause in rushing the injured patient from accident site to nearest hospital due to poor roads adds to the vows of rescuer and till the injured could be rush to hospital--- the victim succumbs to his injuries.
The delay in providing chopper service at the time of the accident for shifting the critical patients also resulted into increase in number of deaths.
The situation calls for the immediate intervention of the government of Jammu and Kashmir in return need to impress upon the Government of India to take immediate measures for the restoration of the strategically important road as the proposal to get the road constructed by the newly formed corporation may take some time. The union government must take interim measures to provide some sort of solace to the lakhs of souls living in the mountainous region.
The state and Union Governments may also be asked to prepare a detailed plan for construction of alternate highways. The process for construction of Vailoo-Singhpora tunnel on Kishtwar-Sinthan road as well as Doda-Sudhmahadev road may be expedited so that there are alternate road links available to the region.
The flip flop in recently launched air service for Kishtwar District has also added to the concern of people-the fix amount of Rs 4000 as ticket price also seems to be very high and same need to be reduce so that poor people too can avail the services in case of emergency.
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