Key tunnel on Islamabad-Kishtwar road almost shelved

Vested interests don’t want Chenab Valley should get connected with Kashmir: MoS Home

Three years after the state government
approved the construction of 4.5 kilometer Vailoo-Singhpora tunnel to reduce the distance between Islamabad and Kishtiwar districts and make it an all-weather route, the work on the prestigious project is yet to take off. Moreover,the slow progress of work on the Islamabad-Kokernag-Sinthan-Kishtwar road, declared as National Highway 1B, is causing tremendous inconvenience to the locals.The state government in January 2010 decided to construct the Vailoo tunnel to reduce the distance between Daksum (Kokernag) in Islamabad (Anantnag) district and Chatroo in Kishtwar district.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah gave his approval to the ambitious project which would have bought the south Kashmir district of Islamabad closer to Kishtwar district of Jammu division. The project was supposed to cost Rs 400 crore and was to be executed on Public-Private Partnership mode with Jammu & Kashmir Bank funding the project. A target of 18 months was set for its accomplishment.
Although the 140 kilometer long Islamabad-Kishtwar road was thrown open for vehicular traffic for light vehicles five years back, but is motorable during summers only. The need for a tunnel at Vailoo has been felt by travelers for long to make it all weather route and turn it into a viable alternative to the Srinagar-Jammu highway which is prone to frequent closures during inclement weather. The travelers have to presently pass through 3797 meter high Sinthan pass which remains covered with snow for most part of the year and with the coming up of the tunnel the pass could have been by-passed.
“The tunnel has been approved by State government in January 2010 but after more than three years even the process for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) is yet to be started,” an official said.
He said the project has been almost shelved.
MLA Kishtwar, Sajad Kichloo said, “The construction of the tunnel would certainly have increased accessibility and served as an alternative to National Highway 1 A besides boost the economy and tourism of the two regions, but the technical hurdles are hampering the construction.”
He said the BEACON, which is undertaking the project, has only carried out tentative survey while the final one is yet be done.
“The experts had earlier suggested 4.5 kilometer long tunnel, now they are of the view that it needs to be 10 kilometer long. So no outcome is expected as of now,” said Kichloo.
Meanwhile, the Kishtwar-Sinthan road is yet to be thrown open for traffic as the Sinthan Top still remains covered with snow, an official informed.
Locals say that it has been more than four decades after the project to have an alternate road for Kashmir was conceptualized that the Kishtwar-Islamabad-Srinagar road, declared as National Highway 1B, is still incomplete.
They allege that the powerful business and political lobby of Jammu and some sections in the central agencies may be deliberately creating hurdle in the completion of the project and the construction of tunnel. “There is a strong presumption among the powerful business lobby backed by some politicians that the alternate road link to Kashmir will severely affect the business avenues in Jammu,” said a youth, Ishfaq Aalam, of Kishtwar.
He said the state and Centre were “deliberately delaying the project under pressure from some quarters.”
MLA Kishtwar, who is also the junior Home Minister of the State, also voiced similar apprehensions.
“Yes there are certain vested interests who don’t want that the twin districts of Doda and Kishtwar should get connected to Kashmir region,” he said.
Locals further said that the widening work from Sinthan to Islamabad, part of the Kishtwar-Sinthan-Islamabad mega project, was going on at snail’s place and it has already missed several deadlines even as people have to face tremendous inconvenience.
“The project undertaken by Beacon was supposed to get accomplished by the year 2007. However, seven years down the line it is still far from completion,” says a local political leader of Kokernag, Khurshid Malik.
He said that if the road becomes all-weather it will increase inter-regional accessibility besides boosting economy of the area.
“We are not able to make to our work places in time due to the dilapidated condition of the road at various places,” said Dr. Adil Wani, a resident of Kokernag.
He said that it takes more than two hours to reach Islamabad town from Kokernag though it is barely a 25-kilometer distance.
Residents say that the problem gets compounded when they have to ferry patients to hospitals in Islamabad. “The patients and the expecting mothers
undergo tremendous hardships in reaching to hospitals in Islamabad as the road is bumpy and dotted with potholes,” said the villagers of Vailoo.
Residents complain of respiratory diseases because of the shabby road. “There has been rise in the cases of respiratory diseases due to the inhalation of dust on the route,” said a medico working in sub-district hospital Kokernag.
Chief Engineer Beacon did not pick up the phone despite repeated attempts.