The illusive road

Sinking Doda Road

Deesa Kapran road can not only connect Doda with Kashmir Valley and trigger development in remote areas, it can also provide an alternate link between Jammu and Srinagar. Haroon Mirani looks at the proposed road that was forgotten before it could take off.

Almost every week, residents of Bhatta village in district Doda trek the Braribal mountain atop their mules to reach Kapran in Kashmir valley for purchasing merchandise. It makes sense for them. Getting the same merchandise from Doda town takes them more time, money and effort.

They pack their mules in the morning and sip afternoon tea at Kapran. Next day, they return home with their merchandise.

Bhatta is the last village of Doda district on the illusive Dessa-Kapran road, that if constructed will revolutionize connectivity between the two Kashmiri speaking areas. Conceived in 1970s by then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Dessa-Kapran road is still a distant dream for this hilly district.

The road is not only feasible for a host of reasons, it can also benefit the area in a number of ways.

In 2008 Dessa farmers transported their entire walnut crop to Kashmir through this route. “They simply loaded the walnut crop on horses and mules and unloaded them on other side in Kapran and beyond without any trouble,” says Khurshid Ahmad, a resident of village Bemina, the last motorable point on Dessa road.

Experts say the road would be safer than other routes to Doda. “This road is one of the safest with no danger zone of shooting stones or landslides,” says Mohammed Hanif Hashmi, head of Chenab valley Foundation. “Besides, if connected by a tunnel, it will be an all weather road.”

The road will cut the distance between Doda and Srinagar to 140 km from the current 229 km through Jawahar Tunnel. “In fact, Doda will be just 45 km from Kashmir valley’s southern end,” says Hashmi.

The road can herald development for thousands of inhabitants of Dessa region, till now bereft of basic amenities. Experts add that the road will usher a new era of development for the neglected regions of both Doda and Kashmir.

One of the biggest problems in Doda is the increased number of road accidents that take a heavy toll. Hundreds have been killed in road accidents in the recent past. Overloading in public transport, narrow and sharp curves on mutilated roads are the main reasons for increased accidents.

“Doda along with Kishtwar gets lowest funds for road construction. We need emergency allocation of funds along with a separate Chief Engineer stationed in Doda, who could oversee its execution at a faster rate,” says Hashmi. “Otherwise people will continue to die here.”

People in Doda and Kishtwar accuse Jammu based administration for turning a blind eye to their woes, as most bureaucrats prefer to live in their cozy offices than taking care of the ground situation in mountains.

Dessa road can cut the number of accidents and become a lifeline for the district. As the road will have to be built according to highway standards, the chances of accidents will further decrease. This road traverses Doda district, touching most of the habitats, which otherwise are connected with narrow precarious roads.

The road will also open up a number of unexplored tourist spots in the Dessa area. Residents say there are beautiful and vast meadows high up in mountains in Doda that could be made accessible by this road.

“One cannot describe the beauty of these meadows in words, it has to be seen to be believed,” says Mohammed Hussain of Dessa. “You cannot find such a spectacular spot any where in Hindustan.”

Some of the meadows are Danna Dahar, Marg Dahar, Saiba Wali Marg, Draman, Chaba, and Chandi. Each one has its uniqueness in form and beauty.

Chaba has pine trees around grassland. Chandi has special viewpoint, where from one can see Kishtwar, Braritop, Patnitop and Bhaderwah. Draman has an area equivalent to entire Doda town.

At a point in Prem Nagar, residents claim, cell phones display at least 50 networks, 15 of which are of Pakistan. “Even Chinese networks come alive and so many networks are just unrecognizable,” Says Muzaffar. All these places have remained out of bounds for want of the construction of Dessa-Kapran road.

The road also traverses a beautiful landscape along the Deshnad stream upto Mandore in Doda, where the stream joins Chenab River.

Ironically, the construction of Dessa-Kapran road is always a part of the state plan, but the funds allocated show the figure zero. A number of surveys have also been conducted on the feasibility of this road by Roads and Buildings Department and Beacon, but the construction never proceeds beyond paper work.

While the road would shorten the distance with Srinagar, it can also be connected with Sudhmahadev route with Jammu, thus providing an alternate road to Jammu-Srinagar Highway. The altitude of Sahnikund pass on this road is lower than Patnitop. The road will connect Srinagar with Jammu via Doda on a shorter, safer and an all weather road.

The need for this road has also been increased by the sinking of a large portion of Doda-Batote road at Assar earlier this year. After the commissioning of Baghlihar dam and subsequent rise of water in Chenab, a large portion of this only connecting road has been rendered unfeasible. The authorities are still building the alternate road and people have to wait for hours daily due to inconvenience caused by the never ending construction.

“The government is making us hostage to this dangerous road,” says a local resident. “They are spending crores of rupees on the realignment and upkeep of this unreliable road, but they wouldn’t part a smaller portion of it for Dessa road.”

Deputy Commissioner Doda, Sharif-u-din, says that government is concerned about the problems of people and roads are being given special attention. “In phase 3 to 6 of PMGSY 39 roads of 370.02 kms are being constructed in Doda at the cost of 188.1862 crores.” Regarding Dessa-Kapran road, he says, “Rs 724 lakhs are to be spend under PMGSY on the Dessa road and work will start within months.”

But people are sceptic about the PMGSY contract. “Earlier too tenders were floated under the programme. When one company from Hyderabad almost agreed to the project, the PMGSY chief engineer sitting in Jammu withdrew the tender for some unknown reasons,” said a local contractor pleading anonymity. The people have deep rooted distrust against the Jammu based administration whom they accuse of deliberately keeping Doda cut off from valley.

People at Bemina also express their apprehension about the sincerity of administration. “30 years have passed and still there is no road. Every time a file is created for construction of this road, the bureaucrats in Jammu sit on them for years,” says Salim, a teacher in Dessa. “It needs political will at highest level to materialise this dream.”

To overcome the connectivity problem in Doda, government is also planning to start ferry service in Doda as the Chenab river from Baghlihar to Pul Doda has been notified as a water body under Ferry Boat Act. “We will be granting licenses for ferry service on Chenab which has now become navigable” says Sharif-u-Din.

The service can provide safe and faster mode of transport for Doda residents. It will also act as a tourist attraction as people will love to travel on boats on mighty Chenab River traversing through high mountains. “The administration has chalked a plan to install street lights on its banks, construct tourist huts at Pul Doda, construct ferry platforms and other such required facilities to encourage tourism,” says Sharif-u-Din.

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