Developmental works in Jammu and Kashmir badly hit by political chaos
Many projects are under construction for the last so many years, with extensions issued to them year after year - reflecting the lack of capability of successive state governments to execute mega projects.
Kashmir is one of the most geo-politically tensed regions in the world. The region's strategic location makes it very valuable in the south Asian region where three nations – India, Pakistan, and China – are hounding for its control. Presently, its majority area is an integral part of India, while Pakistan and China have occupied some areas. The Indian Kashmir has remained under severe militant tension since 1989 and is presently under a military law sanctioned by the Indian state – Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Yesterday, after a four-year-long honeymoon, the BJP-PDP alliance in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir came to an unholy end when the BJP announced that it has withdrawn its support to the Mehbooba Mufti government. CM Mufti has already resigned and the state is most probably going to be under Governor's rule. Given that the state is perennially under unrest from separatists and militant organizations, the development works in and around the state are at a halt in most sectors.
Many projects are under construction for the last so many years, with extensions issued to them year after year - reflecting the lack of capability of successive state governments to execute mega projects. The governments and the executing agencies blame the situation in the valley or weather conditions for not meeting deadlines - taking refuge in excuses - which often leads to an escalation in the project costs.
Kashmir valley's longest flyover from Jehangir Chowk to Rambagh
Announced in 2009, the construction on the flyover, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at an estimated cost of $52 million, began in 2013, but the project is far from completion even after missing several deadlines.
The latest was December 31, 2017, which was set by the government for the completion of phase one of the flyover - from Tulsi Bagh to Barzulla Bridge. The Jammu and Kashmir Economic Reconstruction Agency (JKERA), which is executing the project, had said it would be thrown open for traffic by mid-February 2018. However, because black-topping of the stretch could not be undertaken in winter months, the agency pushed further the opening of the phase one of the flyovers to May.
"The first phase is complete structurally. Only blacktopping remains which cannot be taken in the winter months. We hope that in the last week of April or in the middle of May, if we have the right temperature needed for black-topping, then we will open it in May," JKERA Director Satish Razdan told PTI.
Razdan said many factors were responsible for missing the December 31 deadline.
He further said that the JKERA had given the deadline of December 31 for the completion of the work which had been completed, but they were not allowing traffic on it because they did not want people to have a bumpy ride. Secondly, the temperature had fallen several degrees below the freezing point during the winter, by virtue of which, the concrete was attaining its strength slowly. Load testing is an important factor for any bridge and Razdan says that they are still conducting those tests.
"We do not want to risk the lives of the people," he said.
JKERA Director said several trial runs have been conducted on the stretch and once the tests are undertaken and black-topping and other small works are done, traffic would be allowed on it.
Not only the first phase, the deadline for the phase two, which had to be completed by June this year, has been pushed further to September 2018.
"We are hopeful of opening the (entire) flyover in September 2018 if the situation remains good and everything remains fine. The work on phase two is going on and the way the work is going on, we are hopeful of opening this sector as well by the September end," Razdan said, adding the latest deadline was June 2018.
He said the 2014 flood and 2016 unrest were the major reasons for the delay in the work.
JKERA is also executing the grade separator near TRC Junction here. The foundation stone of the project was laid by former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2015 and the project, to be built at a cost of Rs 17.85 crore, was to be completed by December 2016. However, the agency missed the deadline and a visibly small project is still under construction. The authorities pushed the deadline to June 2018.
The four laning of Jammu-Srinagar national highway is another ambitious project undertaken by the government for easing the traffic woes of the people in the state and to improve connectivity between the two regions Jammu and Kashmir. The work on the project in Kashmir region has been going on at a sluggish pace with the project missing several deadlines, so much so that High Court had to intervene.
The work on the Srinagar-Qazigund stretch was started in 2011 and the deadline to complete it was June 2014. The project executing agency not only missed the deadline but sought extension after extension. So many extensions later, the project is yet to be completed and officials say it would take a few months more.
"The work on the project is going on. There are weather constraints and it is difficult to work in the winter months. About 80 per cent of the work has been completed and the stretch of the project, apart from two bridges one railway over bridge and the other at the starting point in Srinagar - will be thrown open for traffic in the next three to four months," Vipin Sharma, project director for the section, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), told PTI.
Sharma said certain issues like land acquisition and availability of funds, apart from the adverse weather, were responsible for the delay in completion of the project.
"The deadline was December (2017), but there were procedural delays which were resolved only in the month of August. The land acquisition was another problem, which now has been resolved," he said.
He said the work on the Banihal to Ramban stretch, which was allotted in 2015, is on.
"That is the most difficult stretch. The progress there is hardly six to seven percent as on date," he said. Sharma said the basic problem in Kashmir valley is that the working season is very small. According to him, it will take a minimum of two more years for the part of the project in Kashmir region to be completed.
"I do not think the Srinagar to Ramban part of the four-lane highway will be thrown open to the public before 2019," he said.
Not only mega projects, the state has even missed several deadlines for small developmental works like construction of bridges and hospitals in the valley.
Future plans of the Union Government
On April 3, 2017, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said work on projects worth $1.2 billion would be started by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in the next two years in Jammu and Kashmir. He declared this after Modi inaugurated the Chenani-Nashri tunnel, which has reduced the travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by around two hours and the distance by 31 kilometers.
"We are working on 13 new projects in Jammu and Kashmir and I hope that it will further strengthen the road network and road communication for people," the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways said.
He also promised that the work on ring roads, costing around $308 million and $323 million respectively in Jammu and Srinagar would start in the next three months. "Tenders have been floated for the Jammu ring road, while that for the Srinagar ring road will be floated in next two months and within three months, the work will start on both the projects," he added.
The Centre also planned to float a tender for construction of the Zojila tunnel which will cost around $880 million in the next two months, Gadkari said, adding with the construction of the tunnel, the highway to Leh and Kargil districts of the Ladakh region will become an all-weather road.
The Chenani-Nashri tunnel is a state-of-the-art project which will boost tourism and increase employment potential and ensure supply of essential goods.
(With inputs from PTI)