- Landslides worry officials as pilgrimage round the corner
Banihal/Udhampur/Jammu Hundreds of vehicles, stranded for four days, were allowed towards Kashmir on Friday night as one way was restored on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway after freshly building a road stretch to replace the one washed away in flash floods, officials said.
The 270-km highway was blocked since Tuesday due to landslides, mudslides and shooting stones at 33 places in Ramban and Udhampur districts.
“The highway has been reopened for traffic. On June 20, highway was closed due to shooting stones at Panthiyal. So, traffic was stranded”, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) national highway, Shabir Ahmad Malik told reporters on Friday night.
Malik said while all blockades were removed and traffic cleared, the major problem of washing away of the road patch at Dewal bridge near Samroli on June 21 took three-and-half-days to be cleared.
“The base of road was washed away. A new road patch was created and traffic was restored tonight”, he said.
Traffic was allowed towards Kashmir, and with this, over 1,500 vehicles that were stranded since almost four days, including the convoys carrying langars for the Amarnath Yatra, were let go, he said.
On Saturday, traffic from Srinagar to Jammu will be allowed, he added.
A 150-feet-long road stretch and an under-construction bridge on the highway were also washed away due to flash floods triggered by heavy rains.
On Thursday evening, officials were upbeat about clearing the approximately 1,300 stranded vehicles on the highway by this evening, saying the road clearance work was being carried out on a war footing.
However, it took a major hit this afternoon as a fresh landslide occurred on the hill top, bringing the restoration work at Dewal bridge near Samroli to a halt, officials said.
Deputy Commissioner, Ramban, Mussarat Islam, who personally monitored the road clearance operation, said the district administration made arrangements for night stay, meals and other facilities for the stranded passengers.
“The shuttering of under-construction Peerah bridge was washed away due to heavy rains (on highway)”, a police official said, adding that the one which is normally used for traffic is safe.In Udhampur district, a 150-foot stretch of the Jammu-Srinagar highway was washed away on Wednesday near Toldi Nallah, 16 kilometres away from the town, they said.
Meanwhile, The recent incidents of landslide and boulders rolling downhills in Udhampur and Ramban districts from where Amarnath-bound pilgrims will pass for 43 days beginning June 30 has left officials worried as they fear the pilgrimage may be affected.
Also the traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar highway was finally restored after four days on Friday evening. The inclement weather had left over 1,000 vehicles stranded on the 270-km road at several spots, forcing the administration to call Army for rescuing stranded civilians.
Officials believe that due to the four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, mountains have turned weak, resulting in frequent landslides. An official of the Udhampur district administration, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “The incidents of boulder and mound of earth sliding downhills have been reported from the spots which have never witnessed landslide in the past.” Similar is the situation in Ramban.
The highway remained blocked at Samroli in Udhampur for almost four days where the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had been working day and night to restore the traffic.
Udhampur ADC Mohammad Syed Khan said many vehicles had been were stranded at the spot since late Tuesday following landslides.
Jammu Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar said the road clearance work had been almost completed on the Udhampur-Banihal stretch. A large chunk of the highway was washed away amid heavy rain on Tuesday. Even on Friday, during the restoration work shooting stones and landslides delayed the progress.
The J&K administration is expecting at least eight lakh pilgrims this year as the yatra is being conducted after a gap of two years due to Covid. Pilgrims pass through some of the most landslide prone areas of the region. Ramban is one such district where over 30 landslides were recorded during the recent heavy rains.
The monsoon is also expected to hit J&K soon.
As the highway is closed, the traffic police, in an advisory for June 25, stated that subject to fair weather and good road condition, light motor vehicles shall be allowed from both sides of the Mughal road. The road is an alternative route to Kashmir from Jammu through Rajouri and Poonch.