Sadhna Pass: A Tunnel Too Far

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80,000 souls living in the picturesque valley of Karnah, situated on the military Line of Control some 80 km from the district headquarters of Kupwara is connected to rest of Kashmir through Sadhna (Nasta Chun) Pass. This pass is situated at an altitude of 3100 metres, in the lap of the Shamasbari Mountains, separating the Karnah valley from Kupwara.

There exists only a single two-way vehicular road from Kupwara to Karnah through this Pass thus serving as a tenuous lifeline for the people living in the valley. On an average 15 persons lose their5 lives every year while crossing treacherous Sadhna Pass. The location of the road makes it vulnerable to avalanches, landslides, and shooting stones. During winter, snowfall forces the closure of the Pass for a period exceeding six months, restricting the movement of the people from Karnah. This results in the shortage of essential commodities, medicines, and lack of access to healthcare facilities. Every year winter brings new challenges and problems to these inhabitants as they deal with life around 8-10 feet of snow.

The blockage of roads and increased risk of avalanches has caused many cases of passenger vehicles getting buried under debris or snow. Needless to say, there is loss of life, but the grief of the deceased’s family is deeply saddening. Relatives need to wait 8-10 days in order to get the bodies to city hospitals for the last rites.

In cases of emergency, locals have carried critical patients downhill, on their shoulders. But on some unfortunate days, the lives of these selfless people have also met a harsh end. In 2017, when an avalanche hit a passenger vehicle while traveling from Kupwara to Karnah, 11 lives were lost. Post this tragedy, the people of the Karnah had launched heavy protests against the government authorities, demanding the construction of a tunnel through the Sadhna Pass but only empty promises were made.

The government had launched a helicopter service for the people of the Karnah, but poor weather conditions, that are commonplace in the region, cause the service to be suspended from time to time. Also, most of the Karnah residentsfall below the poverty line and thus cannot afford the fare for the chopper service.

The construction of a tunnel through the Sadhna Pass, will help matters greatly. A tunnel of approximately 6.5 km, cutting through a distance of 30 km will mitigate risk and save travel time by reducing the 4-hour journey to an hour and a half. Inevitably, such a tunnel will also aid the development of the area. Constructing a tunnel at the Sadhna Pass will keep the Karnah Valley alive and connected throughout the year, with other parts of the country. It will help in promoting tourism, generating employment, maintaining LoC trade, and strengthening communication and defence networks.

This matter needs serious consideration because it’s not just about a tunnel, it’s about the lives of 80,000 people. 

Yasir Farooq Badana

 [email protected]

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