Road To The World


Fifty thousand people living in a God-forsaken area in J&K may get a chance to access small amenities, hitherto a luxury for them as a road is being constructed to connect Madwa-Wadwan region. A Kashmir Life report.

Wadwan valley

Many people do say that there is a vast belt that falls in ‘&’, of Jammu & Kashmir. But most of them do not know that the &-territory comprises around 50 thousand people who inhabit inaccessible mountains that separate the Chenab valley (erstwhile Doda district) from south Kashmir’s Islamabad district.

Madwa, Wadwan and Dachan are the three major belts that form the &-territory. Administratively they fall under Kishtwar district. But technically two of these belts Wadwan and Madwa are accessible only from Islamabad district while a long treacherous trek connects Kishtwar to Dachan. These are godforsaken areas living a primitive life. Though the garrisons that exist in the areas do give them a feel of what the downhill is all about they lack all those facilities that are part of the routine life down the hills on the two sides.

For decades now, they were consuming the food which they carry on their backs or on mules from Mati Gawran, the twin hamlets that form almost the border of the Islamabad district deep into the forests. The carriage of the food (that is meant for them) was actually a major source of income to the people living in these mountains.

Last week when chief minister Omar Abdullah inaugurated the Bailey bridge project that the army executed on the request of the state government over Inshan rivulet, it was the historic culmination of a process that started somewhere in 1979 when his grandfather ruled the state. The belt will now see a vehicle reaching them after passing the dangerous Murgan Top (13,000 above sea level). Tragically, there were not many hands to clap for the historic movement. Even the spin doctors of the government focussed on Omar’s flight to Inshan rather than the ending of ages-old isolation of the region!

Part of newly set-up Kishtwar district with the easiest access from south Kashmir’s Gawran hamlet, the belt is spread over 307 square kilometres with a population of 25,345 in 27 villages. “Almost 89 per cent lives below the poverty line and over one-third of the population migrates to Kashmir for most of the summer to make a livelihood,” says a senior officer from Kishtwar. With 57 per cent of a total area densely wooded, 11.41 per cent is available for cultivation but only 896 hectors are irrigable.

Those who have trekked to the three belts suggest that there are a number of Pahalgams and Gulmargs in the region. From language to lifestyle, they say the area looks like a place that seems to have fathered Kashmir. It still lives in the old-style houses without proper road transport as Hakims still are the best healthcare workers. Even officially it is termed to be the symbol of abject poverty, backwardness, illiteracy and perhaps the only place where primitive barter economy is still in vogue. “This may sound incredible but the fact is that this belt is the only place across J&K where children have never been immunized,” a top officer from Kishtwar told Kashmir Life.

These areas are rich in trout fish – both Brown and Rainbow varieties. Marwah river slices the region into two and both the banks have scores of picturesque meadows that are used as grazing grounds. Starting from Mati Gawran in Islamabad, one would reach Madwah, then to Wadwan and finally to the Dacchan. Its mountain ranges connect the belt with many places including Kargil and Pahalgam.

Efforts to extend the road network to the belt – from Islamabad as well as from Kishtwar – started earlier but it was during the government of Ghulam Nabi Azad when it was put on fast track mode. A road had been set up in 1989 and a truck did reach Margan Top but there was no follow up and the road eroded. It was in 2006 that a fresh road was conceived in three phases from Islamabad side.

The first phase comprising 23.6 kilometres between Lehanwan and Margan top falls within the territorial jurisdiction of R&B Islamabad. Sources said a project worth Rs 29.34 crore is awaiting sanction. However, under the state plan, it has done earthwork for 13 kilometres and made five km of WBM-II standard for an expenditure of Rs 1.30 crore last year. This year it has got Rs 31 lakh, which has gone into earthwork for additional three kilometres.

The stage-II was to take the road from the Margan top to Inshan – the first village of the Wadwan valley – a length of 25 kilometres, to be executed by the engineering department of the Kishtwar district. Details available suggest that against an estimated requirement of Rs 21.62 crore, they have already booked an expenditure of Rs 7.34 crore by the end of September 2010. So far 13.50 km are metalled, 10.50 kilometres are shingled and the rest 1.20 kilometres are fair-weather.

“I had taken the first bus to Inshan on October 26 last year,” remembers G M Saroori, the Congressman who resigned as Works Minister on the orders of his party. “It was a memorable occasion as hundreds of people assembled to see the bus. I was accompanied by Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and Javed Ahmad Dar,” he said.

Regardless of the controversies that led to his unceremonious exit, Saroori was instrumental in getting the road through. “I had to beg and divert funds to manage this road,” Saroori remembers, adding, “The last problem was that of a bridge for which I literally begged the army that while the state government will provide the money they should execute it.” They finally set up a 60-meter bailey bridge at a cost of Rs 3.92 crore which Omar inaugurated last week. This bridge has made Wadwan accessible from Islamabad.

Stage-III of the road is to extend it by another 50 kilometres to reach Navapachi – the tehsil headquarters of the Madwa. Though most of it is in the valley plains it still requires two major bridges in between. Saroori says, “When I was the minister we had taken this part under PMGSY and for two bridges that would cost not less than Rs 2.50 crore each we invited tenders six times but nobody came.” Now, the government will have to do it through its own agencies, he says.

There is a second road project to reach Dacchan from Kishtwar. The government has been working on this project for a long time. It takes off from Bhandarkot to Patimahal (18 km) to Pakal and to Navapachi and passes through Kishtwar High Altitude National Park. Details available with Kashmir Life suggest that the 36 km road (from Bhandarkote to Navapachi) will cost Rs 147 crore. Against an expenditure of Rs 4.05 crore by the end of September 2010, the government has improved the initial 16 km making it metalled as earthwork is completed up to km number 32. The work is in progress for earthwork between km no 24 to 32 and the work on the tail end from km 33 to 36 will start after contracts are allotted.

“The work is in progress,” says Director CAPD Jammu Parvez A Malik. “I know it because three ponies that were carrying the supplies to Dacchan were hit by boulders during blasting of the path.” This had created a problem for his department as horsemen refused to work. “Finally I had to get an order issued from the deputy commissioner Kishtwar that no blasting should take place till the winter stocking of food grains completes in Dacchan,” he said.

Given the situation, the principal activity of the government is making food grains available. It is a huge exercise involving hundreds of people and is replete with rackets and swindles.

Entire stocks are being driven to twin Kashmir hamlets Mati-Gawran, over 117 km south of Srinagar, wherefrom it is being distributed to the consumers who come on foot covering huge distance – 80 km in certain cases – after crossing the arduous pass. Mules slipping down the steep heights are a routine and there are instances of human fatalities during carriage as well. Since dispatching food to the people in their own areas is a state responsibility, the consumers get the ration and the amount that the carriage would cost. In certain cases, the cost of carriage is more than the cost of the rations.

In 2006, a senior officer said, the government paid Rs 3.19 for every kilogram as carriage up to Inshan and Rs 3.80 for Chudraman”. For villages like Dehrana, carriage costs more than the food grains.

Carriage of the food grains to these belts has bled the state kitty over the years. Statistics tabled in the state legislative assembly last month suggested that the state government spent Rs 18.13 crore for carrying 37577.181tons of supplies (rice, wheat and sugar) to six stations in Kishtwar district that was valued at Rs 25.60 crores during last two years.

The requirement of the supplies is huge. For Madwa, the CAPD sends 1102 quintals of rice, 847 Qtls of wheat and 98 Qtls of sugar, every month. For Wadwan it is 566 Qtls rice, 355 Qtls wheat and 38 Qtls of sugar and for Dacchan that is serviced from Kishtwar the monthly requirement is 1359 Qtls of rice, 769 Qtls of wheat and 22 Qtls of sugar.

The rates are fixed at Rs 18 for every 100 kgs of weight for a kilometre involving a pony. For Dacchan which has 11 stations where supplies have to reach, it is Rs 4.66 per kilogram from Gulabgarh onwards.

Despite being a tedious exercise – stocking for six months by November, it had become a huge racket. Explains a senior officer: “At least 14 employees have lost their jobs recently and more recently a deputy director rank officer was arrested and then while he was bribing a crime branch officer, the sleuth also was arrested.”

Officials, usually locals with political clout, would go on increasing the population of the land-locked areas and draw the BPL ration with carriage costs but would sell the excess in the black-market and make millions. A test check-in 2003 resulted in the recovery of 8000 bags being recovered from horsemen who dumped the stocks at their homes instead of state depots across the Margan Top. Besides, 23 truckloads of BPL ration for this belt was found to have been sold in Islamabad.

On May 29 last year, the government accorded sanction to the prosecution of 17 in-service public servants for their involvement in the misappropriation of 17060 tons of CAPD food grains drawn against the artificially inflated population of the Marwah and Wadwan between 1997 and 2002. The population of the belt had reached 61000 when the officials intervened and forced “birth control” on official records. Apart from selling the grains in the black market, they retained an amount of Rs 9.61 crore as the carriage.

Every new CAPD minister said the corrections led to certain savings but the pilferages still remain. The exposure of the racket reduced the supplies required in the belt by almost one-third.

Road connectivity will revolutionize the region. CAPD officials say it has started making an impact. “With the road now going into Inshan and a vast belt near the bridge we will be saving Rs 86 lakh a year on carriage alone,” says Malik. “We still will have to pay for carrying the food beyond within Wadwa and Madwan but we will still save a lot.” CAPD is hunting for a huge storage capacity near Inshan especially in Sarkandu village so that it stores supplies conveniently.

Saroori who says he has personally invested in the project is happy that it is through. “But it would not be workable unless there is a good investment in adding dedicated machinery to this road for clearing snow as is happening on all other roads,” he said, adding, that he had listed a requirement of Rs 15 crore for that when he was a minister.

But the road will come at a huge cost. People who are acquainted with the region say it will disrupt the nature from its last refuge. “You will lose a miniature Kashmir where the language, architecture, culture, customs and even economy resembles with that of late nineteenth century,” said one trekker who wishes to remain anonymous. “But the people must share the benefits of progress”, he insisted adding the planners need to manage a balance.


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