From time to time we keep hearing about the four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway (NH) which is actually the major part of NH-1A. It is a matter of satisfaction that the initial work in this regard including the land acquisition and forest clearance has been largely completed.
A highlight of the project will be the construction of new tunnels through the mighty hills incurring the bulk of the approved expenditure of Rs 9000 crore. One is quite sure that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will do a good job.
One has not so far heard of any complaint about the Authority in its care of about 70000 kilometres road length across the country.
The NH-1A takes off from Jalandhar in Punjab and passes through Himachal Pradesh before entering this State at Lakhanpur and terminating at Uri. Its total length is 663 kilometres with our State accounting for a whopping 541 kilometres. Himachal has a meagre share of 14 kilometres.
The highway’s Udhampur-Jawahar Tunnel portion in particular is considered the most expensive road as far as its maintenance cost is concerned. The authorities have to contend with frequent landslides, avalanches and mudslides especially during the winter. There can be chaos if there are incessant rains.
As the movement of vehicles is affected a scarcity of essential commodities is caused in the remote mountainous regions along the route and in the Kashmir Valley for which it is the solitary road link with the rest of the country. The pressure on it may ease when the alternative Mughal Road becomes a reality. The four-laning, of course, will also be a boon. One can only say more the merrier so far as roads are concerned. Who is not aware that roads are the arteries of progress? It is mainly through them that prosperity and civilisation travels to far-off and secluded hamlets.
While NH-1A covers three states with us as the biggest beneficiaries we have three other national highways — all of them within our State.
These are the 274-kilometre long NH-1B from Batote in this region to Khanabal on the other side of the Pir Panjal through the idyllic Doda-Kishtwar-Symthan pass passage; just eight-kilometre long NH-1C linking Domel with Katra and the 422-kiliometre long NH-1D also known as the Srinagar-Leh highway as it connects the Summer Capital with the district headquarters of the trans-Himalayan territory. Thus we find that NH-1B and NH-1C branch off from NH-IA. On the other hand NH-1D has a history like NH-1A; it has been declared a national highway only in 2006.
It has been the old Central Asian trade route and has also been known as the Treaty Road after a commercial treaty signed in 1870 between Maharaja Ranbir Singh and T.D. Forsyth (who acted on behalf of the British India Government). Merely because they have been given the status of national highways does not mean that these roads are in perfect condition all through the year.
Every winter we hear sob stories of hundreds of people stranded on NH-ID with the Air Force pressing its flying machines into service to carry them either to Kargil or Srinagar. A chunk of NH-IB is also under construction. Nevertheless the very fact that these roads have been placed in a distinguished category underlines their significance to our existence and economy. Slowly but surely they will attain their unique level. It is not easy to carve out roads from our awesome snow-bound hills. A lot, therefore, is yet to be achieved in the State as a whole in terms of spreading and beefing up the existing road network.
Our latest Economic Survey gives a realistic appraisal:
(a) 1775 inhabited villages in a total of 6417 inhabited villages are yet to be connected by all-weather or fair-weather roads;
(b) 2735 habitations are yet to be linked in a total of 9933;
(c) the Public Works Department (PWD) maintains a total length of 18809.42 kilometres of roads; its road length per hundred square kilometres of area gives a poor value of 18.55 kilometres but is better — 154.34 kilometres — if one takes into account per lakh population; and,
(d) since road length maintained by all departments in the State is 40103 kilometres — 24017 surfaced and 16086 unsurfaced — the road density per 100 square kilometres of area works out to be 39.55 kilometres against the national average of 104.6 kilometres (we are among the states with the lowest road density).
It is possible that the situation has improved somewhat after the publication of the Survey.
Even so it is for one and all to see that we have to get our act together to match the perfection of the NHAI. Often we have dreamt about the numerous virgin scenic vistas that roads will open all over the State.
It is a matter of time before we go from Akhnoor to Shopian. Likewise we can visualise a possibility of driving all the way from Lakhanpur to Leh without following the present course. It is a question of finding funds, chalking out systematic plans and then implementing them honestly.