The roads of Kashmir

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The improvement of the roads in parts of the Valley was one of the most conspicuous piece of good work done by the previous PDP-BJP regime led by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. But the situation has now gone back to square one. The same roads which were restored to a good shape after a massive investment of the funds have gone back to utter disrepair. And ironically,  this has happened after we were told that the contractors will be liable for any deterioration in the roads up to three years of the construction. The move was intended to ensure “use of quality material and better delivery” as far as the road construction is concerned. The maintenance clause made it mandatory for a contractor to repair or reconstruct any newly constructed road if its condition deteriorated within  three years. The rider was generally welcomed by the people as it was seen as an important step to hold the contractors to account and fix responsibility.  More so, in a state which is used to the deterioration of the condition of the roads only a few months after their construction. However, the contractors were not supposed to do the job on the old, insufficient rates. The funding per kilometre was enhanced by almost 100 percent. Earlier, the government used to spend Rs 18 lakh per kilometre. But now the rates almost doubled to  Rs 34 lakhs, which is the international norm. So for once, we actually had quality roads. And people did acknowledge the redeeming difference. Everybody said good roads were being laid. The new repaired roads could boast of better riding quality, better geometrics and the sufficient pavement thickness. This was truly an achievement. While the PDP-BJP alliance seemed to badly struggle on the larger political and the development front, the good roads stood out as an evidence that the coalition wasn’t a waste after all.  

But months, the same roads built with 100 percent more funding and with a “maintenance rider” for the contractors have fallen apart. The roads in Valley are in a worse shape than before, with the streets in Srinagar – ironically also the tourism capital of the state – in the utter state of disrepair.  The travel to Lal Chowk from the airport which brings tourists to the Valley or from other entry routes to Srinagar city brings this appalling reality home. The roads in the city are now muddy, pothole-filled obstacle courses. There are very long stretches which seem to have been  dug up and have thus become unfit for driving. This has aggravated the problems for the commuters, more so for the people travelling in passenger vehicles. In most areas of downtown city, it takes long durations to travel around. The situation is worse at places like Nowshehra, Hawal,  Umar Colony Main Road, Satboni-Sikh Bagh, Lal Bazar and Zadibal and also in the uptown city areas like Chanapora, Rawalpora, Rangreth. What is more, unlike during its first ten months in power, the new government seems little focused on this reality. It is time that the maintenance rider of three years is invoked and the contractors who took double the money per kilometre are held accountable. They are obliged to do the repairs. And if this doesn’t happen, it will make the government complicit in the shoddy job and raise serious questions about the way the work was allotted.

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