In 21st century Kashmir it takes 2 hours to travel a distance of just 12 kilometres. Shams Irfan reports the painful ordeal of commuters on Srinagar-Pampore road
Eighty-five-year-old Khazir Mohammad Wani, a retired government official living in Pampore, who shuffles his time between local mosque and a friend’s shop, clearly remembers his college days. In 1947, he was in 9th standard and staying in Srinagar as a paying guest. On weekends he would take a tonga (horse-cart) from Srinagar to reach Pampore to spend some quality time with his parents. The journey would take him 1 hour.
Some 68 years later, in 2015 the same journey from Srinagar to Pampore, in any sophisticated vehicle takes 2 hours!
Welcome to modern Kashmir.
It has been already six months since last floods wrecked havoc on infrastructure across Kashmir including the road network, but six months is enough time to restore and rebuild at least the vital roads that could keep life going.
But around 30 half-hearted repairs later (since September 2014), this 12 kilometre stretch from Srinagar to Pampore still haunts commuters like a nightmare.
The repair of this road, which is the lifeline of Kashmir and the only way to move goods and essentials into summer capital Srinagar, should have been taken up on the priority basis. But the new government led by Mufti Sayeed, too became victim to the myopic legacy left by his predecessor Omar Abdullah. Mufti, despite backed by the votes of oft-neglected rural peasantry class, invested his government’s men and machinery in cleaning the mess from Srinagar city only. His ‘agenda of change’ ceased to exist beyond Sonwar! As if there is no life outside city borders. What about highway towns of Pampore, Awantipora, Sangam, Bijbehara? If only Mufti and his photo-ops hungry cabinet have travelled by-road from Qazigund to Srinagar via Pampore once since their historic merger with BJP, they would have understood the pain a common Kashmiri has to go through while reaching Srinagar. But like his net savvy and twitter crazy predecessor, Mufti and his ministers too prefer aerial route to rule their subjects. And then travel through one of the best laid roads from Airport to Gupkar. How can they even understand that one has to literally turn his/her vehicle into a boat to cross Sempora!
In last two years, well before Mufti donned J&K CM’s robe; the stretch from Pantha Chowk to Sempora has attained notoriety of being a death trap for vehicles.
Interestingly, this is the same place (opposite Hyundai Motors showroom) where last year, just months before September 2014 floods some genius from PWD has ‘officially’ breached the bund, to lay a pipeline so that water can be drained into Jhelum! And since then there has been no tweaking of this bund, rather the official pass-the-buck game is going on between PWD, R&B and Irrigation and Flood Control Department.
There is a joke going around among people who live on this stretch that Mufti’s government will revoke AFSPA soon. Reason. Instead, stone-pelters and political prisoners will be made to travel from Pampore to Srinagar twice a day as punishment!
In September 2014 floods Sempora was the first place to get inundated, not by the flood water but because of the faulty drainage system. And as a result, the only accessible connection between Srinagar and South Kashmir was cut off. Had there been a proper policy where all the stakeholders including PWD, R&B and Irrigation and Flood Control departments, have joined their heads to come up with a single solution, the picture would be different right now. But the lack of coordination and miscommunication, fuelled by departmental egos, often end in disaster for people. Imagine, R&B laying roads and then next morning PWD digging the same road to lay a pipeline! And then within a week’s time geniuses from Telecom Department remember to lay cables through the same road. It ended up in a mess. And then there is nobody who cleans or even claims this mess. Maybe we should have a different department for such kind of works or rather dirty works!
It does not need some over the top efforts to come up with alternatives plans or repair this 12 kilometre stretch of road. All you need is political will. A will that last government lacked. A will that this government seems to have taken for granted already.
And for alternates, there is already Lasjan road that can be used in case of emergencies. But given the condition of that road, pre and post 2014 floods, it is one hell of a journey – literally.
With a little widening and invest of resources and money at the right places, this eternal pain called Pampore to Srinagar journey can end within days. But then who cares, as it concerns only 99.99 percent of the population. For rest of the blessed ones there is one route that never gets congested – the aerial one.