The Killer Highway 

Kashmir Highway- File Photo

IMAGINE the only road connecting you to the rest of the world being shut for the most part of the year – and this is an exact description of the Jammu and Kashmir national highway – the lifeline of the state. The road, as it exists on date is highly susceptible to landslides and avalanches, making it a tough terrain for commuters and exposing them to highest possible degree of loss in terms of life and resources. And indeed this is no imagination or thought of situation – but something occurring on daily basis. The frequency of road closure is so high that there are hourly and half-hourly statuses provided by the concerned department to inform if the road is in motor-able condition or not. The losses incurred in terms of perishables like fruits, vegetables and livestock is gargantuan and the cumulative losses suffered due to road closure escape the imagination. The number of people who have lost their lives on this “killer road” is also a frightening and alarming figure and this 270 kM stretch continues to be one of the most dangerous roads in entire South-East Asia. The ill impacts of the vulnerability of this road do not remain confined to the major losses in terms of lives and resources as mentioned above, but students miss their exams, patients loss their battle, the prices of commodities sky-rockets in the valley – all because of the problems arising out of the topology of this road. While I am writing these lines, a news item pops up on my screen informing that the highway has been closed again in view of the bad weather!

To present a miniature idea of how the highway is treating commuters, few news-links are in order, to enable the readers to estimate for themselves the severity of the problem under discussion. Shooting stones lead to the closure of highway, landslides cause closing down of highway for nine hours , and there are two instances from the last month of stranded vehicles and of rolling boulders being deadly on the national highway. . When the magnitude of problem is such, the scale of response should have been proportionate. But the administrative apathy and wholesale negligence is of such order that we don’t even have medical points to attend to the first aid needs on this vulnerable highway. It has been pleaded often that many lives could have been rescued, had they received the timely medical aid. But the outright absence of such facilities not only intensifies the loss in the events of casualty, but also posits number of problems to regular commuters, who might stand in need of normal medical help on this long and rugged route. The absence of medical facilities is one of the many lacunae this highway has and the list of lack of necessary services can be extended from the absence of toilet points to the scarcity of rest houses -all of these fuelling the pre-existing threats and vulnerabilities associated with the road.

The refurbishing of the patches of the highway and the construction of tunnels which shunt the otherwise dangerous parts of the road has been catalytic in improving the topography and motorablity of the road, but that’s not the entire plot. Starting from the incubation and installation of facilities and essential services, reference to which has been made above, to the earmarking of hotspots on the highway and giving them due engineering and technical cushion using state of the art technology should be the utmost priority of the government and the authorities as far as the J&K national highway is concerned. There are aspects to this road which are naturally determined and are therefore beyond the scope of human repair but there are areas which can be very well dealt with by means of careful planning, roping in of technical and administrative resources and these areas shall not be left unattended lest they amount to the loss of life and property on part of our own negligence. In addition to the systemic and structural reforms, the immediate measures like setting up of rest houses, medical units and round the clock availability of emergency services is not only mandatory but critical and indispensable to avert any further miseries to the commuters and to let the existing problems snowball into larger catastrophes. This is what administration and governments are meant for and this is what they need to wake up to.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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