The Roads and Buildings department had informed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that it requires Rs. 550 crores for permanent restoration of roads damaged by the floods last year.
In a compliance report, the department’s chief engineer stated that in the devastating floods of September 2014, out of the total road network of 13,898.37 kilometers in the valley, 1, 696.06 kilometers were badly damaged.
The Road and Buildings Minister has been requested to direct the concerned agency for repair and black topping of existing roads as the dilapidated condition of the roads leads to slow traffic movement, which causes frequent traffic jams.
The swift action taken by various authorities to make sure that the urban population doesn’t suffer from the chaos caused by traffic jams has given the isolated communities of Jammu and Kashmir residing in tough geographic locations some hope that their plight of not being connected via roads will also be understood by the authorities now.
“We have spent decades finding our paths on these tricky routes. It takes us hours to trek up and down the hills to get to the nearest market to purchase things as basic as sugar or salt,” rues Mushtaq Ahmed, a resident of Arai village located thirty kilometers from Poonch town in Jammu and Kashmir’s border region.
Poonch district lies in the Pir Panjal Range two-hundred and fifty kilometers away from the Jammu town. Blessed with natural beauty, this district is marred by cross-border conflict and what they feel ‘government’s apathy’. The development hasn’t been able to reach the interiors of the state forcing the inhabitants to survive without basic amenities like safe drinking water, roads, electricity and health and education infrastructure.
But of all the facilities, the villagers believe roads need special attention.
“In the absence of connectivity, it is easier to find excuses for not providing us with basic facilities. Doctors and teachers find it difficult to reach distant villages. Basic infrastructure like primary health centers, school buildings, dispensaries, ration centers cannot come up till roads are there to help transport the raw material and labour,” says Mushtaq.
Explaining the current scenario, Reyaz Malik, a local activist from tehsil mandi, says that ambulance, if available, can reach us only till the last motorable point which is quite far from the villages located in the interiors.
Whenever someone falls ill, the family has to arrange for labourers who help carry the patient on the cot till the road and then wait for a vehicle to come and carry the patient to the hospital in town. Many lives are lost in the process.
One would be amused to see boards claiming official completion of roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) without one existing in reality.
During his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in November 2004, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh had announced a reconstruction plan for the state involving an outlay of Rs. 24,000 crores. A part of this project was devoted to the overall development of Poonch district under the project title “Development of Poonch” which was to be implemented by the Poonch Development Authority.
For the infrastructural development of the region, Rs. 243.52 lakhs was sanctioned and released by the Central Government in 2006-07. According to records, the project has been ‘completed’ while the life of the people in these remote villages continues to be miserable without the basic requirement of health care facilities and road connectivity.
Last year, the Central Government had cleared road projects worth Rs. 20,000 crores for the state, which would be completed in the next two and a half years. Villagers wonder why nothing reaches them when so much is being spent year after year.
Mushtaq believes that developing a part of the road would only cover up for the problem, not solve the issue.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that an understanding of the geography and the need of the people surviving in this region is required to get to the root of the matter and then design an action plan.
Spending money in the name of development may fetch the state awards like the one it received in November 2012 for Best Health Care Service award from India Today conclave, while doing little for the rural and disadvantaged people of the state.
The views expressed in the article are that of Mr. Mohammed Shabir.