EARLY this year, a little girl with a lapel mic turned into a reporter to show the poor condition of the roads in her area in Srinagar, which is supposed to be a smart city. The video went viral, helping focus attention on the state of the roads, which remain in pretty bad shape. It is impossible to find a stretch of road in many parts of the summer capital without potholes, making driving through the city or even through the towns a bone-breaking experience. The condition of the roads is only getting worse by the day. While senior administrative functionaries hardly need to use the roads and they travel in high-end vehicles when they have to, the millions of the common folk who travel to their work daily have hardly this option.
What makes the situation further unsustainable is that the bad roads have a direct bearing on the economy. More so, when the streets in Srinagar – ironically also the tourism capital of the union territory – are in the worst state of disrepair. Travel to Lal Chowk from different parts of Srinagar brings this appalling reality home. The daily reports of the trials and tribulations of the people on their way to the city centre are scary. The roads are taking a heavy toll not only on the traveling public but also on the fitness of the vehicles. The damage to the vehicles is the most conspicuous fallout of the bad roads. It is already costing people millions through increased delays, extra fuel costs, and auto repair bills.
But except for the occasional official assurance, there is little evidence of even an incipient change on the ground. On some roads, the government department charged with upkeep of roads has resorted to the adhoc filling of the potholes with dust and gravel to make them motorable, but the frequent rains send the situation back to square one, often making things worse than before. The lack of drainage has also contributed to the mess, often turning stretches of road into outsized poodles of water during rain and then into muddy, pothole-filled obstacle courses.
If there is anything that deserves urgent government attention, it is to make the roads at least reasonably motorable. The awful state of the roads arguably makes Srinagar one of the worst cities for traffic in the country. And this state of affairs is hardly affordable for a region that depends on tourism to invigorate its battered economy. The government, therefore, should start paying attention to Kashmir’s roads. The Valley’s tourist-driven economy requires its roads to be in good shape.
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