Ongoing road projects in Jammu & Kashmir will not only help improve connectivity to and within the UT but also boost economic and social development in the region
Presence of strong physical infrastructure is often a leading factor for the growth and development of a region. It is in this regard that roads and highways are considered the arteries of a nation transporting people and goods and is a key factor for the growth, development and prosperity of any region. However, in some regions like the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, development of road infrastructure has been a challenge not only for engineers but also for the policymakers, due to its difficult terrains and extreme weather conditions. The past few years have seen a dedicated focus of the Government's Ministry of Road Transport & Highways on development of road infrastructure in the region. There are multiple implementation agencies namely Border Roads Organisation (BRO), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL) and Public Works Department (PWD), who have undertaken many projects of economic and social importance to improve connectivity in the region in all weather conditions. While the BRO mainly undertakes projects critical for national security infrastructure, NHAI and NHIDCL are working on several projects which are important for socio-economic development of the region.
The current ongoing projects in the Union Territory are planned to connect the capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar to Leh in Ladakh. NHAI is undertaking the 4-laning of the main arterial Srinagar-Jammu-Lakhanpur (NH-44) highway forming part of the North-South corridor project. While a major portion of about 235 km of the project has been completed, the remaining segments of the project are in various stages of implementation. The project has already seen the completion of the ambitious Chenani-Nashri Tunnel — the longest road tunnel (9KM) fitted with an automatic integrated tunnel control system. The tunnel bypasses the snowbound Patnitop range improving all-weather connectivity between the two capitals. The other major tunnel under construction, Qazigund-Banihal Tunnel is located in Pir Panjal range, and when completed, together with Chenani-Nashri Tunnel would reduce the travel distance by about 50 km. The project, which is scheduled to be completed by March 2021, is expected to save both fuel and time equivalent to Rs 27 lakh per day.
NHAI is also developing the economically important greenfield projects of Jammu and Srinagar ring roads. These ring road projects will contribute to the industrial development of the cities, decongest the cities, reduce the travel time and pollution, and help in generating substantial economic activity in the periphery of Jammu and Srinagar cities.
On the other hand, NHIDCL has been entrusted with the development of NH144A, NH 244 and other highways of strategic importance with an estimated cost of about Rs 11,812 crore. The Jammu-Akhnoor Section of NH-144A is a vital defence road and amongst the busiest roads of the State, which connects Rajouri and Poonch to the rest of the country. At present, the Jammu-Akhnoor road is the only way to reach the international border at Marh, Kanna Chakk up to Chicken Neck in Akhnoor which is the most congested road in Jammu. After widening, the project road will not only decongest the traffic of Jammu city and enhance road safety but will also shorten the travel time of defence vehicles accessing the international border.
NH-244 being developed by NHIDCL is a part of the alternate axis to Kashmir Valley. The Chenani Sudhmahadev Project on NH244 envisages connectivity to backward and rural areas of Udhampur district and ensuring safe connectivity to Doda. While EPC tenders worth Rs 698 crore have been awarded and are under implementation, seven new EPC projects worth Rs 8,599 crore are in the bidding stage and are expected to be awarded during the current year. Construction has also started for a major build-operate-transfer (BOT) project worth Rs 2,378 crores recently on June 24, 2020.
The importance of current road development projects in the Union Territory of J&K is not complete without special mention of two key tunnel projects in the region: Z-Morh and Zojila Tunnels. These tunnels lie on the NH-1 connecting Srinagar, Kargil and Leh which is an important road from the national security perspective. Sections of the road lie in identified avalanche sites, with avalanche triggering an accumulation of snow to about 40 feet, and therefore remains closed between November to April. These tunnels and other structures across the avalanche sites will improve the all-weather connectivity in the region. The Z-Morh project is under construction and consists of 6.5 km of tunnel and 6 km of the approach road. The Zojila Tunnel is a 14 km stretch between Baltal and Minamarg and will be Asia's longest road tunnel to be built at an altitude of 11,578 metres above sea level. Upon completion, it will reduce the total travel time by 2 hours. Further, the development of Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Green Expressway Project, which will reduce the Delhi-Katra distance by over 50 km, can prove to be an important factor in economic integration with the national capital. Besides reducing the travel time and thereby transit wastage of farm products from the valley, it can also provide access to more remunerative markets.
These projects will not only improve the road infrastructure within the Union Territory but also generate significant jobs both during the construction and operation of the projects. The secondary effect on industrial growth, increase in tourism, easier pilgrim movement and overall economic prosperity will be greatly impacted due to these and other future projects. Given the strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir, a continued focus on the implementation of these projects seen in the last one year will go a long way in developing a sturdy and efficient road network, improving connectivity within the UT and to other parts of the nation.
The writer is a Partner, Infrastructure, PwC. Views expressed are personal, with inputs on projects from the Ministry of Roads, Transport and Highways